|Concept art of proposed Egged bus ad which I believe says, 'We are women of Jerusalem, nice to meet you.' (source)|
Thirty-six year old Sarit Zussman, who self-identifies as religious, wanted to have her picture put on the side of a bus as part of the Yerushalmi movement. This is a political organization with the goal of promoting secularism and curbing religious extremism in Jerusalem.
But even as Zussman tried, the odds were stocked against her. The sign with her photo never made it to an Egged bus. Egged, along with the Cnaan advertising firm, which is the exclusive franchisee for advertising on Egged and Dan city buses, refused to mount them.This is all in a story on October 3rd over at Haaretz. The signs were to feature women from the chest up with necks, faces and arms exposed. Apparently too much exposure for ultra orthodox Haredi Jews.
The Yerushalmim movement and City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria refused to back down, and submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice, which was accepted. Transportation Ministry officials said they were absolutely opposed to barring women's images on their buses, which set off a debate between Cnaan and Egged over the length of the women's sleeves. The end result of that debate? No images – either of men or women – will appear on Egged's advertisements from this point forward. Egged says the decision was prompted over fear of bus vandalism. Zussman, however, came away feeling more motivated to fight than ever.
The signs from Yerushalmim's campaign were to feature photographs of female residents of Jerusalem with the caption, “Women of Jerusalem, nice to meet you,” and were set to be plastered along the sides of the city's iconic green Egged buses.The above motto speaks to how images of women have been censored out of Jerusalem society in recent years. Many women, like Sarit, want to reintroduce themselves to society and show that there is nothing shameful about being a woman out in the public square.
It's also significant that a city councilwoman would oppose to censorship like this. Imagine how difficult it would be for her to get necessary exposure to be elected if her image was not allowed to be put up in public! Well, that was the case six years ago on Egged buses. I wonder how women real estate agents would do their jobs?
As much as Egged officials try to deny it, their business decisions bear great cultural significance. Knowingly or not, innocently or not, Egged and Cnaan have become active participants in a bitter culture war from which they have little chance of coming out clean.Furthermore, it seems that Haredi Jews, who have the biggest problem with images of women in public places, also are the most numerous clientele.
Despite the fact that the people running the show at each firm are, themselves, not Haredim, and several pledges of avoiding politics notwithstanding, these firms are actually aiding the Haredi victory in the battle over Jerusalem's character.
But vandalism seems to be only part of the story here. The decision not to show images of women, even at the price of not advertising in Jerusalem at all, must be seen in the context of a business eager to hold on to its most important clientele – the Haredi riders who take up more seats than any other sector of the population.Well, just a couple of days after the publication of the article, Egged decided to allow the advertisements afterall.
The campaign to reinstate the images was spearheaded by Yerushalmiot head Shira Katz-Vinkler, and Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim), who holds the education and women’s rights portfolio, and whose own picture was once barred from buses during a political campaign six years ago.This was good news. Except, wait... I'm hoping that any vandals would be fined appropriately if they were caught!
At the time of her campaign, Egged refused to include her image, fearing a violent backlash from extreme haredi sectors, which routinely tore down such advertisements and threw rocks at the buses carrying them.
Noting the prevalence of hardei vandalism against buses with women’s images affixed to them, the government agreed to compensate Egged for any damage caused by the reinstituted practice.
Well, it turns out that not long after the images actually made it onto buses, they were vandalized.
A few days ago, according to the group, the ads were vandalized.Here's one of these offensive adverts.
“These images of everyday women of all faiths send a powerful message to anyone who seeks to limit the participation of Israeli women in public life,” NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said Tuesday in a statement. “In a healthy democratic society, it is crucial that the voices of 50 % of Israel’s population be welcomed. I expect the police to thoroughly investigate this vandalism and bring the perpetrator to justice.”
I find anyone who is offended by this advert deeply offensive.