If you think feminism is a dead issue in the US, and you want to live where the issue is front and center, you should move to Israel. Though it’s the only democratic state in the Middle East, at least one million of its citizens think just like their Islamist neighbors when it comes to the role of women. The international community is just now waking up to the extreme fundamentalism of the Haredim, who are so steadfast in their beliefs that their old wise men have resorted to spitting on modestly-dressed young girls going to school.
The story itself is awful, but it has shown that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The role of women in Israel is one of the most socially and politically divisive topics facing the country today. Recently, a female Israeli soldier was called a Nazi for refusing to sit in the back of a public bus with the fundamentalist women. The ultra Orthodox group has taken to wearing the yellow stars of the Holocaust, to represent the victimhood they experience subjected to public billboards and posters with women in them.
And yet, the Haredim men mostly refuse to work, preferring to study Torah all day. Women, on the other hand, often must get jobs outside the home. As a group, they face high unemployment and drain public subsidies for welfare and education. Currently, they represent 20% of the elementary school population. They reproduce like mad, yet refuse to serve in the Israeli army.
What a gig! I want to be a Haredim male – sit around and read all day while a woman waits on me hand and foot. The downside is that it can only be one woman – these guys can’t look any woman but their wife in the eye. So that cuts down on the fantasy material. Don’t tell me they don’t sneak a peek from time to time though…
The other downside is they are mostly poor. Their housing is overcrowded. The group all but disappeared after the Holocaust. Early Israeli governments treated them as a minority and gave them subsidies for housing and food that now they just can’t keep up with. But even if they want to work, it’s difficult – their culture and education doesn’t train them for the modern marketplace of jobs and occupations. Some in the community are trying to branch out, mostly due to economic necessity. But this has also caused strife within the community.