Only the male third of the Knesset Choir was allowed to sing the national anthem, "Hatikva," on Monday, at the end of a special meeting in honor of visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It turns out that this is state policy. To sing the anthem, the Knesset invites to the plenum only male singers or child choirs, as long as the girls are not over 12 years of age.
The reason for this is the concern that female singers will make the ultra-Orthodox MKs leave the assembly hall, arguing that "a woman's voice constitutes sexual incitement." What was special about the meeting with Brown was that no all-male or children's choir had been invited, so they simply made do with the male section of the Knesset Choir. The women, who make up two thirds of the choir, were left in their offices. Women may sing in the Knesset - but only in the Chagall Hall, not in the plenum. If this were not our parliament, it would be very funny. But because it is our parliament, it is hard to decide whether to laugh or cry.
Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin says that in the past it was customary to invite singers only to the opening of the Knesset session - meaning once every time a new Knesset was instituted. But he, too, was careful not to invite women, to avoid a confrontation with the Haredim. The issue arose frequently during the current Knesset because of the large number of visiting world leaders and the decision to invite a singer or a choir for every meeting in which a visitor gave an address.
It is also difficult not to wonder about a policy of marginalizing women when Dalia Itzik has become the first female Knesset speaker. The Knesset director general, Avi Balashnikov, justifies the policy by explaining that he "is the director general of the entire Knesset," including the Haredim. But it appears he is forgetting that he is also the director general of women. There are 17 female MKs. While the Haredim may have 18 MKs, it is impossible to ignore the fact that women constitute more than 50 percent of the country's population. And with all due respect to multi-culturalism, it is important to remember that even the non-Haredim have feelings, and they are very insulted when women are banned from singing before the parliamentary plenum.
Balashnikov compares the ban on singing to the glatt kosher Knesset cafeteria. Except that maintaining a kosher cafeteria is an example of tolerance that does not seriously injure the sensibilities of others, or insult them. It is also difficult not to wonder where this will end. If today it is singing that hurts the feelings of Haredi MKs, tomorrow it may be short sleeves. There may be no need whatsoever for singers to sing "Hatikva" to the MKs; after all, they can do it themselves, like in previous Knessets. In any case, there can be no discrimination. In a place where women cannot sing, men should also not sing.
Yet, this story has a positive side to it, too. In recent years the public has seemed so fed up with its inability to affect any matters relating to religion and state that nothing seems to be shaking it out of its deep freeze. The fact that so many became upset about women not being allowed to sing "Hatikva" is a sign of hope. A little one.
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