Jewish women in Britain and the US are being urged to send photographs of themselves holding signs saying “women should be seen and heard” in a campaign against efforts by the ultra-orthodox to remove female images from advertising billboards in Jerusalem.
The New Israel Fund (NIF) is planning to compile the photographs into posters to display in Jerusalem.
Similar posters of Israeli women are being displayed by Yerushalmim, an organisation opposed to religious extremism and gender segregation which is funded by the NIF.
The appeal to British and American Jewish women is to show “this struggle is not just waged by the women of Jerusalem alone. It is the struggle of people of conscience everywhere”, says the NIF.
Its appeal follows pressure from extremist ultra-orthodox, or Haredi, Jews on advertisers to remove images of women.
Among the companies which have complied is the Israeli fashion brand Honigman, which cropped a female model’s head from its Jerusalem poster displays. Billboards which continue to show images of women have been vandalised.
Ohad Gibli of the Canaan advertising agency, which launched a campaign to attract organ donors using only images of men, told Israel Army Radio: “We have learned that an ad campaign in Jerusalem … that includes pictures of women will remain up for hours at best, and in other cases, will lead to the vandalisation and torching of buses.”
Opponents say images of women have been almost eliminated in Jerusalem. “Advertisers are caving in to the demands of extremist ultra-orthodox groups,” says the NIF email. “Even ballet studios and women’s clothing stores have stopped using photos of women.”
The email continues: “When the advertisers eliminate images of women, they reinforce a world view in which women must be hidden, where women can’t have any meaningful role outside of the home. That’s what happens when religious extremism overwhelms basic freedoms.”
Shira Ben-Sasson Furstenberg of the NIF, who describes herself as liberal orthodox, said: “We’re experiencing a snowball effect. And we can’t say that the only people being affected are Haredi, because it’s not only Haredi women – and even the Haredi women don’t want it.”
The secular mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, has publicly opposed the Haredi campaign. “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,” he has said.
Extremist ultra-orthodox groups have also demanded the segregation of women and men on public transport and separate hours, entrances or queues at supermarkets, post offices and medical centres.