The battle over advertisements on buses in Jerusalem has reached new heights of absurdity. About a year ago, after a prolonged battle, the Egged bus company and the Canaan Media advertising agency have decided not to post advertisements in Jerusalem featuring any human figures – neither women nor men.
They claimed that pictures of women led to buses being vandalized. In order to prevent discrimination, and due to pressure from Israel's High Court of Justice, it was also decided to remove male figures from bus advertisements. About a week ago it was reported that even an ad with a picture of an alien was rejected, for fear of an ultra-Orthodox reaction. This week they even rejected a text-only ad because the text contained criticism of the advertising agency's policy.
Rachel Azaria, a member of the Jerusalem City Council and chairman of the Yerushalmim faction, leads the battle against excluding women from bus ads. In the previous election campaign, as a result of Egged and Canaan's refusal to post an ad of hers, she petitioned the High Court against the policy. Recently she sent an ad with a picture of herself and text which read: "This is the last time that they'll put me in the back of the bus." As expected, Canaan refused to post the ad. Instead, and after consultation with the Egged advertising consultant, a new ad was sent. This time without a picture and with the wording: "Here there was supposed to be a picture of Rachel Azaria." But that ad was also rejected.
"Sending the ad to the Canaan agency is tainted by an extreme absence of good faith," wrote Canaan CEO Ohad Gibli to the Yerushalmim faction, explaining the refusal. "The ad presents mistaken data, because today it is not permitted to post pictures of women and of men (not only of women)." Gibli added in his letter that the agency is liable to financially suffer as a result of the ad.
The absurdity of the bus advertising policy reached it's height in a phone conversation between Azaria and a Canaan representative. "No figure, not a man, not a woman, not a boy, not a girl, not even an alien," explained the representative. "Let's say animals, is that possible, a bitch?" asked Azaria. "They cause problems with that, don't count on it, better not," replied the representative. "Inanimate objects, you're saying, nothing living, inanimate objects?" Azaria further inquired.
"In the past five years we have succeeded in bringing women back to the public sphere in Jerusalem on billboards, at bus stops, and on bulletin boards," says Azaria. "The only place where you still can't post pictures of women is on buses, and that's due to the stubbornness, obtuseness and cowardice of Canaan and Egged. The purpose of the Yerushalmim campaign is to state, loud and clear, that we won't give up even on the last bastion of exclusion of women in the city."
In a conversation with Haaretz, Gibli admits that the present situation is uncomfortable but he points an accusing finger at Azaria. "The present situation is one in which we find ourselves due to Azaria's battle. In the first place we function in Jerusalem as a Haredi media company because the buses pass through Haredi neighborhoods, and just as Haredi media won't post an ad with a message that calls for opening businesses on Shabbat, and just as other media outlets don't feature women, the same is true of me. In the wake of the petition to the High Court it was decided that there would be no figures at all, and to our regret that is the situation today."
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