The Other Red Line

Several years from now we will look back at the tectonic event that occurred on Rosh Chodesh Chesvan 5773 and recognize it as the tipping point in the conversations on the shape, and nature, of a democratic society here in Israel. For last week, even with a decades-long history of other events and provocations, it was clear – that at least in Jerusalem – the Orthodox establishment has succeeded in having Israel’s police do their bidding. For with the arrest of Anat Hoffman – and the department’s uncivilized behavior towards her while jailed – a red line was crossed:

Anat Hoffman in her own words:

A few days ago, on Oct. 16, 2012, I was arrested at the Western Wall while conducting a prayer service in honor of Hadassah’s centennial birthday. Two hundred and fifty Hadassah women came to the wall in solidarity with our group. As we were chanting the “Shema,” a major prayer in the service, I was approached by a police office, ordered to leave the wall plaza and taken to the nearby police station. A night of humiliation and pain followed.

I was handcuffed, strip searched, laid on the bare floor. I was not allowed to call my lawyer. I was dragged on the floor with my hands cuffed and worse of all, locked in a tiny cell with a crying young Russian woman accused of prostitution, who was the target of every filthy comment male inmates could utter. Her tears and their words are the hardest memory for me to move on from.

Is this any way for a civilized society to act? Is this any way for a Jewish state to react?

And where are our leaders – both the political and the global organizational ones – on this issue? Silent.

The Jewish Agency: Silent.

The Jewish Federations of North America: Silent. (**)

The World Jewish Congress: Silent.

You can bet if this happened to a prominent Jewish professional in Moscow, or in Paris, Buenos Airies, or New York, all of these organizations (and others) would be tripping over themselves to see who could be the first out with a press release. And if they missed the first wave, then how they could show the world their position is stronger than whomever last spoke.

But it happened in Jerusalem; and so they are Silent.

The silence needs to stop.

Not only is this type of abuse beyond tolerance in a civilized world, these organizations – and all others operating in the Israel sphere – need to understand that both the original actions, and the silence from these global players may well [negatively] influence philanthropy.

*

This past June, at the meeting of the Va’ad HaPoel (the Zionist General Council) in Jerusalem, a series of resolutions were passed relating to the status of women in Israeli society and Zionist institutions. We quote from two:

  1. The Zionist General Council resolves:
    That the World Zionist Organization shall initiate and fund projects to advance the status of women and to prevent separation instigated in a coercive manner and/or separation which means the exclusion of women from the public domain.
  2. Therefore be it resolved that:
    Article 7 (b) of the WZO Constitution be amended to now read: “act according to the basic principles of justice, equality and democracy, prevent the membership of bodies or individuals that adhere to or advocate discrimination based on origin, nationality, race, gender or sexual orientation and conduct its affairs, having regard to the protection of the requirements of all members of the Federation.”

*

Noting the importance of current events and guided by these Zionist General Council resolutions, with the upcoming gatherings of two of the organizations listed above:

We call upon Natan Sharansky, as Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, to address these issues from the podium at the opening plenary of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting on Sunday morning.

We call upon the Jewish Agency’s Unity of the Jewish People Committee to submit to the Board at the closing plenary, resolutions both condemning the actions that took place last week in Jerusalem and a resolution clearly stating the position of the Jewish Agency on discrimination in Israeli society (AND what is expected from their grantees in not allowing any discrimination in their funded projects).

We call upon Jerry Silverman, as President and Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Federations of North America, to address these issues from the podium at the opening plenary of the upcoming GA in Baltimore.

And, we applaud the Zionist General Council for their leadership on these, and other, gender issues.

It’s time to take a stand so that when we look back to Rosh Chodesh Chesvan 5773 we can, at least, be gratified with the changes it ushered in to Israeli society.

This article reflects the personal views of the author, and should not be regarded as a statement of the views of eJewish Philanthropy or its funders.

** Update Oct 28: The Jewish Federations issued a statement shared with their constituent community. They have not issued any media release or spoken publicly on the issue.