'Barbie's Here!' Bedouin Children Welcome Visiting Second Lady

Jill Biden visits Lakiya, touring women's compound with project sponsored by New Israel Fund.

Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, clearly made an impression on the children of Lakiya during her visit. "Barbie's here!" cried one. In her bright pink dress, Biden stood out against the desert landscape of this Bedouin town. She would probably have been flattered to hear the women, clad in traditional robes, asking each other where she bought it.

Biden toured a compound belonging to the nonprofit organization Sidreh, where dozens of Bedouin women have sought empowerment and equality in recent years through projects run by various organizations. These include a weaving project sponsored by the New Israel Fund that the U.S. government also helps finance.

"It's important to us to show what these women have achieved in recent years, to break the stigma that 'Bedouin' mean nothing but 'polygamy,'" said Hanan al-Sana, who runs educational programs for Sidreh. "We've lowered the illiteracy rate, we employ 70 women and even university studies are no longer out of reach."

Biden listened attentively to the women, but did not comment: She merely smiled and nodded. She stuck to this tactic when Rachel Liel of the NIF tried to bring politics into the discussion, complaining of a recent "smear campaign against civil society organizations because they level criticism aimed at improving the face of Israel." If Liel had hoped for a statement of support, she was disappointed.

After the tour, the women gave Biden several gifts they had woven specially for her. She told them that she, too, was a working woman, and she considers it very important for women to be independent, as those she had met today clearly were. But this brief response disappointed her hosts.

"She listened, but said nothing," complained one. "It would have been interesting to hear her opinion on the situation of women in the U.S. and worldwide, and how it would be possible to move forward."