Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
MK Yulia Malinovsky, head of the committee on Special National Infrastructure Projects and Jewish Religious Services.

The Knesset Plenum on Wednesday approved in the first reading a proposed amendment to the Penal Law (Amendment No. 145: Defacing Real Estate with the Aim of Excluding Women), 2021, sponsored by MKs Yulia Malinovsky, Evgeny Sova, and Alex Kushnir (Yisrael Beitenu). The bill was supported by 55 MKs and opposed by 46. It will now be returned to the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee for deliberation and amendments.

The new bill proposes to impose stricter punishment for the offense of defacing real estate under circumstances in which the offense is committed with the aim of restricting the access of women to the public space or preventing the display of women in the public space. The punishment for committing the offense under the aggravated circumstances will be a fine in the amount of NIS 75,300 (roughly $25,000) or a year’s imprisonment.

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The bill’s explanatory notes state: “Recently, there has been an expanding trend of defacing ads throughout Israel that depict females. The people defacing the ads blacken and obscure the female characters in them, but not the male characters. This is also done with female characters on banknotes and official documents—with the goal of excluding women from the public space (the Bank of Israel’s latest round of bills includes two poetesses: Rachel on the NIS 20, and Leah Goldberg on the NIS 100. Haredim have been known to blacken out their faces because they consider public displays of women’s faces to be immodest – DI).

The next part of the explanatory notes presents a serious challenge in terms of its outrageous assertions:

“Defacing images of women in the public space is a violent act, designed to erase women and cancel their voice and influence.”

No, it really isn’t. It’s the response of normal people to the fact that some company decided to smear images that are offensive to them on the bus stops and walls of their communities. It’s not violence, it’s self-defense.

“Fundamentally, this act treats women as a hazard and a sexual object that needs to be concealed.”

Yes, it does, as do hundreds of Talmud and Midrash pages packed with warnings about the power of women’s sexuality over men. The legislator is free to disagree with these assertions, but it should not have the power to cancel 3,500 years of Jewish tradition.

At the risk of coming across as racist, I’d like to point out the sketchy relationship between one of the three authors of the bill and Jewish tradition:

MK Malinovsky was born in Voroshilovgrad in the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union (today Luhansk in Ukraine). Her mother, Sophia, is Jewish, and her father, Vladimir, was of Russian, Greek, and Armenian descent.

In December 2021, Malinovsky got into a fight over Jewish conversions with some Haredi MKs and poured her ire on them: “You forgot that Judaism does not belong to one rabbi or another, you forgot where you came from, you forgot what your roots are. You think you have a monopoly on Judaism, on us. On the one hand, you do not want to accept the State of Israel and its laws and on the other, you want to dictate its lifestyle. This ceremony is over, it will not happen again.”

You may or may not agree with her sentiment, but she is clearly an enemy of Haredi Jews, hence her perception of their wish to avoid public titillation as “violence.”

The explanatory notes continue in the same borderline-autistic misunderstanding of Haredim: “The exclusion and hiding of women and the attempt to create spaces that are ‘sterile’ and devoid of women is humiliating, hurtful and misogynistic. The exclusion of women also reached the latest election period, during which there were multiple cases of defacing billboards of women candidates who were running for election. These acts infringe upon the basic right of women to be elected, as well as the right of men and women to vote, and harm the purity of elections and equality.”

All of the above gives this reporter the urge to go out and deface a few ads as an act of solidarity. Also, as a free-speech maximalist, I pray the bill will never reach the final plenum vote. The right to deface ads, much like the right to deface statues of Caesar is a freedom one enjoys only in a democracy. Frankly, it’s disheartening to see folks who made Aliyah from the totalitarian Soviet Union and end up imposing totalitarian censorship on Israeli citizens.

Haredi MK Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) said at the Knesset session: “What is the chair of the Committee on Jewish Religious Services dealing with? Proposing a bill about the exclusion of women. Do you understand the absurdity? People ask not to turn women into objects for advertising, and everyone understands why they want to respect women and give them a place of honor. [The bill] calls it: Defacing real estate with the aim of excluding women. Forcing women against their will to be in pictures, so that they can be there to be objectified.”

OK, so MK Pindrus is not so big on free speech. He should still be entitled to grab a magic marker and paint a big mustache under MK Yulia Malinovsky’s nose.

On an ad, of course, only on a printed ad.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.