Organizers of Women’s Conference on Polygamy Threatened

The event in southern Israel next week could hurt the Joint List ticket of Arab parties, critics say.

Jack Khoury
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Bedouin women (illustrative).Credit: Itzik Ben-Malchi
Jack Khoury

The organizers of a women’s conference on polygamy in the Arab community have received threats but vow to go on with the event, which focuses on the Bedouin in the south.

The conference is scheduled for early next week at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be’er Sheva.

While the conference is scheduled to mark International Women’s Day on Sunday, the fact that it is taking place in the run-up to the March 17 election has generated criticism. The organizers do not deny that the timing is linked to the fact that two men on the Arab community’s Joint List ticket are in polygamous marriages in violation of the law.

The conference is the initiative of Itach/Ma’achi, a women-lawyers group for social justice, and three Bedouin women’s groups from the Negev: the Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status, the Rahat Women’s Association and the Banat Al-Badiya Association.

Attorney Ainsaf Abu Sharb, responsible for Bedouin women’s rights at Itach, said that since invitations to the conference went out a few days ago there has been heavy pressure to cancel the event. Criticism has particularly been strong on social media.

“It’s true that there has been no physical violence, but when I read comments like ‘They should fill their mouths with sand,’ or ‘They should put a knife to their throats,’ or that we are coming out against a phenomenon that is religiously legitimate, what am I supposed to think?” Abu Sharb said.

“[Polygamy] is a difficult and familiar phenomenon that we as activists in the Negev are trying to cope with, so this is an opportunity to put the issue on the public agenda.”

Abu Sharb denies that the conference is politically motivated. She says that despite the threats, largely from men, the organizers plan to hold the event on time.

“And we expect all feminist activists to support the move,” she said. Neither she nor her colleagues have filed complaints about the threats, but they will do so if the level increases, Abu Sharb said.

Some political and feminist activists, however, aren’t toning down their criticism of the timing and the possible effect on the Joint List ticket.

“Polygamy isn’t new, so you can’t link it now to the Joint List,” said Manal Shalabi, a political and feminist activist and member of Hadash, an Arab-Jewish party that’s part of the Joint List. “The expectation is that the list will motivate everyone to fight against fascism, oppression and racism in general.”

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