do your laundry

January 13, 2007

I’m feeling very mixed about the airing of dirty laundry. I’m talking specifically about the airing of dirty Jewish laundry. I think depending on how you go about it, sometimes airing dirty laundry is the only way to actually make some change.

A story has been coming out over the last month or so about an incident that occurred on a Jerusalem bus last month, where a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman was harassed and then beaten up by a pack of Haredi men who were angry that she refused to move to the back of the bus. (Read the personal account here and also check out the coverage in Ha’aretz.). To sum it up: apparently there are some Egged buses that are mehadrin buses (Egged is the national government-funded bus company in Israel, mehadrin means that men and women sit separately and no music is played), this woman was not riding on one of them. She was asked to move to the back, she refused, and a group of men kicked her, pushed her, spat on her, pulled off her head covering, and generally left her physically and emotionally bruised.

Issues this brings up: where do you draw the line when it comes to what religion can dictate in a government-funded system? I’m not going to say that Egged doesn’t have rules mandated by Jewish law, because Egged buses do not run on Shabbat. In a Jewish state, who gets to define tzniut (modesty)? Is this an issue the Haredi community should be dealing with internally? My main point is that this issue is that like many questions, it requires a tremendous amount of context to understand both the incident itself and the gravity of the incident. And when I see posts on mainstream non-Jewish blogs (blogs that I respect, I should add) that don’t really delve into any context or even any details, I feel very frustrated – and not because I think that what the group of men did was OK or excusable in any context, but because it can’t really be understood in a two paragraph news clipping with the subject line ‘woman beaten for existing.’ (it has been changed since its initial posting).

And then we have the infamous video of the Hevron settler (a woman) taunting her Palestinian neighbor: “sharmuuuuuta!” (sharmuta = whore). I don’t even want to get into the grossness of a woman calling another woman a whore, especially with a culprit who is supposed to be some sort of “pious” religious woman. Beyond that, it’s interesting to note that the settlers in this particular neighborhood of Hevron called Tel Rumeida are notorious for abusing their Palestinian neighbors. (yes, this article is written by Gidon Levy, another writer criticized for airing dirty laundry). The video to which I linked above was taken by the Palestinian woman’s 16-year old daughter, who gave the video to B’tselem. And then it made its way to YouTube. And now, suddenly, the media and the police are paying attention (click here, here, and here). Palestinians living in this neighborhood say that their complaints over the years have fallen on deaf ears. Through the propagation of this video, perhaps their fate is changing.

I worry about people making generalizations about Jews, about Israelis, etc. And I conclude that I believe in a broad exchange of information, in the power that we access through the internet to raise voices that have been silenced and to question things that we take for granted. And I will take the chance that issues will be raised without context and void of nuance if it means that people will start talking and that change is somehow possible (in a world that feels more and more hopeless). If internet coverage means that the Israeli public will have to wake up about the dangers of letting settlers run amok, about not allowing religious people to think that the way that they practice Judaism is the *only* way, then great. Hopefully there will always be the few who will write the context, and perhaps even more who will be interested enough to read it and engage with it. And I continue to think that through the internet and blogs, concrete change can be made. Maybe the only way we can do our laundry is if people are watching.

tags: Judaism, Israel/Palestine, feminism


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