Women’s issues activists from Ra’anana were furious over photographs taken at a “fun day” for women soldiers who had fought in Operation Protective Edge and shared recently on Facebook.
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One of the photographs showed Ra’anana mayor Ze’ev Bielski standing next to a massage table on which a young woman lay, dressed only in a bikini bottom, with a masseur standing over her. This odd photograph was taken at an event held to show appreciation for 300 women soldiers who had fought in Operation Protective Edge. The event, which was organized in cooperation with the Ra’anana municipal women’s council, was sponsored by many commercial groups. The masseur at the event was the one who uploaded the photographs.
The publishing of the images led to a wave of angry responses after Hanna Beit Halachmi, a feminist activist in Ra’anana, shared them on her page with a protest of her own. The commenters, men and women alike, protested the fact that the massage tables had been out in the open and the women’s bodies had not been covered, allowing those in attendance near the pool to look on. One photograph shows several men – including the former mayor, the municipality spokesman and another man who volunteers on behalf of soldiers in Ra’anana – watching and smiling as one woman receives a massage.
The activists were uncomfortable with this situation, in which older men watched a young, half-naked woman receiving a massage. The man who volunteered on soldiers’ behalf even posted on his Facebook page about the women soldiers doing Zumba “dancing and swaying, an experience for the eyes.”
The protest was also about the content of “fun days” for women that included Zumba (a dance fitness program), dancing, cosmetic treatments, massage and hairstyling. Beit Halachmi told Haaretz: “The photographs, which were uploaded to Facebook with text that spoke of how they were a sight for the eyes, showed the women lying on treatment tables wearing nothing but their underwear, being watched by municipality representatives who stood in a circle around them. What’s worrying is that none of the people looking on or those involved thought, as it was happening or even later on, that something about was not OK. The way these soldiers, who serve on the front line, were treated leaves a great deal to be desired.”
Mati Boruszek, chairwoman of the Ra’anana municipal women’s council, replied to Beit Halachmi in a post of her own. “I would like to make several facts clear,” she wrote. “Every event is done on a volunteer basis only by donor agencies. Six buses were sent out to various army bases to bring in women soldiers who had taken part in Operation Protective Edge, with the army’s approval, as stated. Each soldier could choose from the variety of activities, including gymnastics, American-style dance, Zumba and a cosmetic treatment provided by one of the country’s leading companies. In addition, each soldier received various gifts and a sumptuous luncheon. They had the use of the pool and various poolside activities. Shiatsu and massage treatments were also available, and each one chose what she wanted. An army band performed for dessert. The women soldiers’ response was a great deal of gratitude to the Ra’anana municipality for thinking of them and giving them a fun day. It is a pity that you do not share this favorable attitude.”
A municipal official added that the mayor was photographed there when he visited the fun day site and walked from one station to another. The official added that when Bielski saw the situation at the massage tables, he left quickly. The municipality also did not post the photographs, and they do not appear on the municipality’s Facebook page.
A spokesperson for the Ra’anana municipality said, “The Ra’anana municipal women’s council organized a fun day for women soldiers of the Israeli army who had fought in Operation Protective Edge to show its great gratitude and appreciation for their work. The day was a success and received a great deal of praise from those who participated in it. We would be happy to use municipal facilities for such purposes in the future as well.”