Benjamin Netanyahu - Gil Cohen-Magen - 22122011
Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s preparing for term after term. Photo by Gil Cohen-Magen
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Now we can relax: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he won't let the extremists hurt women. Israel's public space, he said, "must remain open and safe to all." In an impressive display of alacrity he urged the attorney general to check whether local governments were enforcing "the laws against excluding women in the public sphere."

Netanyahu once again proved he is a terrific PR agent, with his finger on the pulse of the Israeli street, and leveraged the public's discomfort into branding himself as the father of the nation. With one hand he dictated a review of the legal code, and with the other promised, "We won't give in to the extremists."

But like all PR agents, Netanyahu excels at emptying problematic social phenomena of content, presenting them devoid of context, as the hollow echo of the spirit of the times. And what is that spirit? Shock at "the exclusion of women." What is "the exclusion of women"? A fuzzy euphemism, a general term for specific phenomena taking place in various communities and for different reasons, all growing from the same, problematic soil.

The story that "shocked the nation," about little Na'ama from Beit Shemesh who was shouted at and spit at, is not "the exclusion of women." Rather, it is behavior unique to an extremist group in Beit Shemesh that takes its power from verbal and physical violence that does not distinguish between men and women, adults and children, between the more religiously observant and the less so. Its entire focus is imposing a separatist, isolationist norm on anyone who does not obey its dictates.

It's no accident that this is where Netanyahu aimed his darts, and not against the much more complex issue of shoving women to the back of public buses, which starts with the bus companies' capitulation to the principle of "mehadrin," or strictly kosher, and failure to acknowledge the genuine need of various communities for gender separation. And the buses have nothing to do with the misleading term "women's singing," which has mainly to do with the militant struggle of the Zionist-Haredi community to change the character of the army and Israeli society overall.

Netanyahu is not interested in stopping these things, which share the fertile ground that produces the raging campaigns against the judicial system, the Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, mosques and more. His policies support the total breakdown of Israeli society.

But Netanyahu, PR whiz that he is, knows that Na'ama is the perfect poster child for "the exclusion of women," and that his firm denunciations are an appropriate PR-agent response.