Tony Greenstein | 02 October 2011 | Post Views:

All too often, when people in the West think of Israel and the Palestinians they also think of the most reactionary aspect of Islam – the stoning and flogging, the covering up of women with the burka and niqab, the tyranny of the religious establishment in Iran and Saudi Arabia and their vicious penal codes, executions and tortures, whilst at the same time the corrupt clerical establishment makes fortunes.

But few people ever think that if Political Islam has gained ground in the Arab world, the reason for it is firmly western imperialism which has consciously sponsored fundamentalist Islam as a means of combatting the real enemy – Arab socialists and nationalists who would take back the oil wealth and not squander it on weaponry to be used against their own people and in the casinos of London.

Those with short memories will forget that in Afghanistan, a liberal movement that had come to power under Babrak Karmal, with Soviet support, was faced with a Jihadist movement sponsored by the United States and its satrap, Pakistan’s Inter Service Institute. The Taliban and An Quada were a wholly ‘Made in the West’ product. Even James Bond did his bit with a Lawrence of Arabia figure, carefully tutoring Islamic fighters into combatting the wicked Soviets in ‘The Living Daylights’. It is unlikely that Bond will ever again be seen on the side of Islam!

But we also ignore that Jewish Orthodox Fundamentalists are growing in Israel as the settlements expand and the justification for them, that they are ordained by a god who gave the Holy Land to the Jews a few thousand years ago.

We see this expressed in Jerusalem where there is a de-facto ban on women travelling sitting with me on buses. Israeli feminist and former Minister of Education, Shulamit Aloni, took part in travelling on a bus and below is the article she wrote:

Even more worrying is that the Israeli Supreme Court has effectively ruled the practice of segregation legal, as long as there’s no coercion. Shulamit Aloni’s experience is that such a practice cannot help but be coercive and violent given that they very idea that women are unclean is similar to a racist prohibition on Arabs and Jews mixing. As the article says, the era of Rosa Parks is back.

Shulamit Aloni Published: 09.12.11

Last month, Anat Hoffman of the Reform Movement proposed that I board one of the previously gender-segregated bus lines and examine the attitude to women. These are the bus routes where the High Court of Justice ruled such segregation is illegal and must be annulled.

I boarded the Route 418 bus from Ramat Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem. The bus was full, and I, an elderly woman over 80 years of age, sought a seat. The men did not appear ill to me yet nobody offered his seat.

I finally found a free seat at the front of the bus. I sat down and immediately heard someone yelling: “Women to the back of the bus.” They screamed but I smiled and continued to sit. Emotions were high but eventually the bus driver said: “Stop it. Let her sit wherever she wants.”

This segregation is disgusting. It is a shame that the Egged bus company cooperates with this for some profits. However, the problem is not Egged. After all, Egged is subsidized by the State and must serve the entire public, regardless of ethnicity, creed, religion or gender.

We are currently experiencing the revival of radical, zealous rabbis who seek to elicit power. They challenge the government and Knesset, brainwash their students and present themselves as an alternative: The rule of the Torah. This radicalization is fed by money, political power and the weakness of ministers and Knesset members who seek to curry favor with the religious public.

This is not a new phenomenon. It started when politicians began to make pilgrimages to rabbis.

Judaism never espoused the need to distance from women. After all, God created both man and woman in his own image. The segregation we are witnessing is the producing of prejudice and power struggles.

A crazy country

I learned from various rabbis, such as Shlomo Goren, who followed historical precedents of a “conditional divorce” to prevent women from becoming Agunot. Together we managed to prevent injustices done to many women. Rabbi Shmuel Avidor Hacohen was also a special man, and when I approached him with the problems of couples who could not get married he spared no effort and smoothed over the issues elegantly.

I meet successful women at the highest level of every field. I admire their rational, practical devotion to the targets they pursue. I also view the women of Kolech, Israel’s first Orthodox feminist organization, as wise, educated and incredibly clever. Yet I feel that we live in a crazy country. Everyone woos women but they are not given rights. We want them to be pretty, healthy and make a living – yet we also want them to shut up. Only few appreciate and truly care for their rights.

The Israeli public has tired of struggles for changing legislation for the sake of human rights. Yet now of all times – when winds of change are blowing and people are enlisting to the cause of a more dignified life for all of us – we must not forget the notion of equality for the entire population. We must care for others, allow every group and individual to express themselves, and respect each other.

We are persecuted by people who are supposed to be men of letters who honor every human being. So I have news for them: A woman is a human being too.

Shulamit Aloni takes part in the “Taking a Seat” project for eliminating gender-based segregation in the public sphere

In response to petition submitted against ultra-Orthodox Mehadrin line nearly three years ago, Israel’s highest legal body rules that coercion of such practice is illegal: ‘Have we returned to the days of Rosa Parks?’

The High Court of Justice ruled Thursday that public bus companies could continue the practice of gender segregation on dozens of lines serving the ultra-Orthodox sector, as long as there is no coercion or violence involved.

“A public transportation operator, like any other person, does not have the right to order, request or tell women where they may sit simply because they are women,” Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in his ruling. “They must sit wherever they like.”

“As I now read over these lines emphasizing this I am astounded that there was even a need to write them in the year 2010,” he added. “Have the days of Rosa Parks, the African American woman who collapsed the racist segregation on an Alabama bus in 1955 returned?”

In the last hearing on the matter late last year, Rubinstein had indicated that the justices were inclined to accept a recommendation to that effect already adopted by the Transportation Ministry

The Transportation Ministry committee had found that while it could not declare the segregation legal, the existing buses on the “Mehadrin” line should be given another chance to continue operating temporarily as long as any segregation was voluntary and women were not being forced to sit in the back of the bus.

The Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, which initially petitioned against the practice, said following that hearing that adoption of the Transportation Ministry committee findings indicates that the High Court endorses the idea that such segregation is illegal. The ministry must intensify bus monitoring to ensure there is no coercion or violence, said the center.

Orly Erez-Likhovski, who represents several women who were also party to the petition, also welcomed Rubinstein’s statement.

The Mehadrin lines serve mostly ultra-Orthodox communities, but are open for all public commuters. A petition deeming the segregated lines illegal was filed in 2007, after several women complained of being verbally and physically assaulted for failing to sit in the back of the bus.

The state had already fully accepted the Transportation Ministry’s position that the committee findings allowing the continued segregation should be adopted.

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Tony Greenstein

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