So Hillary Clinton thinks Israel does not treat its women nicely or respectfully enough. This is the same Hillary Clinton who never had much to say about the treatment of women in the Clinton White House.
The secretary of state is largely silent when it comes to the plight of women in the Muslim world, but condemns the only country in the Middle East that has a woman chief justice, plenty of women in its parliament, more female MDs than male, countless women army officers and court judges, and that has had a woman as head of state, something the U.S. has never had (sorry, Hillary).
Since 1980, women have comprised the majority of all Israeli undergraduate students. And that computation does not include teachers colleges, where women make up an even larger majority. Female students outnumber their male counterparts not just in education and the humanities, but also in such non-traditional fields for women as biological sciences and agriculture. Women comprise a majority of Israel’s medical students, 48.3 percent of law students, and 39 percent of physics students. There are also oodles of women students in math, engineering, and computer sciences. Women are also a small majority of those pursuing MA and Ph.D. studies.
Given those numbers, what was it that got Hillary so upset? Well, Israel has been debating the behavior of some small ultra-religious Jewish groups that believe in strict gender separation, especially in public spaces. No Jew is forced to belong to such communities and women in those communities unhappy with the lifestyle may leave at any time.
There have been initiatives in some of these ultra-religious communities to introduce special bus lines in which women and men do not sit together. When a secular Israeli woman challenged the initiative and sat in the “men’s section” of one such bus, Israel’s ultra-secularist leftist media proclaimed her the Israeli Rosa Parks, and Hillary picked up the cue.
In another incident, some religious soldiers requested not to be required to attend a concert in which women were singing, on grounds that according to their religious outlook such singing is erotic and immodest.
In yet other incidents, some signs were put up in ultra-religious neighborhoods asking women not to congregate on a street next to a synagogue and calling on men and women, in the name of modesty, to walk on opposing sides of some streets.
Of course, Hillary and Israel’s secular media never object to signs in mosques and churches, in Israel and elsewhere, that ask people not to enter in immodest dress. Nor has Hillary ever condemned the Amish for their own pre-modern lifestyles and gender roles. The enlightened media regard the Amish as downright endearing, a charming tourist attraction.
And you would never guess it from reading Hillary’s statements, but she certainly knows there are religious Jewish neighborhoods and communities in the United States where gender separation is the norm. No one seems to think such communities are deserving of public outcry by politicians.
The majority of Israelis reject the lifestyle of ultra-religious Jews, much as the bulk of Americans have no interest in joining the Amish. But the Amish generally are beneficiaries of a “live and let live” attitude on the part of their fellow citizens. A similar tolerance on the part of secular Israelis for the beliefs and practices of ultra-religious Jews would go a long way toward easing religious-secular tensions in Israel.
The religious soldiers who asked to be excused from listening to women singers did not demand that the singing event be cancelled, and they were happy to do kitchen or guard duty instead. But their officers and secularist politicians attempted to coerce them into attending to make a political point.
The haredim who were denounced for requesting bus lines with separate seating have now decided to finance their own independent small bus company without public funding. No one disturbed by gender-separate seating arrangements need use those private bus lines or minibuses.
In a sense, Hillary was just following the lead of numerous leftist feminist organizations. Radical feminists have never been able to identify any mistreatment of women in Arab countries beyond the supposed suffering of Palestinian women due to Israeli “occupation.” Feminist groups have rarely spoken out against Arab anti-Israel terrorism, though many of the victims of that terrorism are themselves women. Even most feminist groups operating inside Israel are radically pro-Palestinian.
The treatment of women in Arab and Muslim countries is so atrocious that space here would not allow for even a superficial survey. In the very same week Iran announced that a woman convicted of adultery would mercifully be hanged instead of stoned to death, Hillary Clinton – and other Obama administration officials who followed her lead – could find nothing more deserving of condemnation than the treatment of women in the only country in the Middle East where women are viewed as humans deserving of equal rights.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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