The Jewish Taliban are on the march

The Middle East’s Only Democracy Inc (via the Guardian):

Jerusalem’s secular mayor, Nir Barkat, has pitted himself against the city’s swelling ranks of ultra-orthodox extremists by demanding that local police enable women to reclaim their position in the public domain.

Over recent months, women’s faces have disappeared from billboards across the city amid mounting pressure applied by the powerful ultra-orthodox lobby, who find the female image offensive.

Several advertisers have erased female models from their posters in Jerusalem. Elsewhere in Israel, the winter campaign of Israeli clothing brand Honigman features a model cosily dressed in winter knits. In the capital, the woman’s head has been removed from the image, leaving just her arm and a handbag.

Companies that do not fall in line with the standards of the extreme ultra-orthodox have frequently fallen victim to direct action. Across Jerusalem, female figures have been blacked out of billboards with spray-paint, or vandalised with graffiti branding the image “illegal”. Other posters are simply torn down.

On Sunday, Barkat wrote a letter to district police commander Niso Shaham in which he said: “We must make sure that those who want to advertise [with] women’s images in the city can do so without fear of vandalism and defacement of billboards or buses showing women.”

Police have confirmed an increase in vandalism on the borders of Jerusalem’s closed ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police would be stepping up patrols to prevent further acts of hooliganism and ensure it is investigated.

Rosenfeld added that despite being pelted with stones, police officers made several arrests in the orthodox Meah Shearim neighbourhood last week.

But activists claim the battle over Jerusalem’s billboards is only one manifestation of an alarming trend towards gender segregation across Israel driven by the religious right.

More here on this growing gender apartheid in Israel.