What's Missing in the Battle Against Excluding Women

We have to fight against Haredi attempts at domination, but the battle has to be proportionate, and it must include every injustice, according to its gravity.

Oy, how good and how pleasant (and also important, to some extent ) to come out against the exclusion of women in the ultra-Orthodox community. Screaming headlines, a sweeping public protest, politicians vehemently expressing condemnation, women endangering their lives in the front seat of the bus. And we now have a new heroine of the moment, Tanya Rosenblit - the Israeli Rosa Parks - who stood up, as it were, on the bus from Ashdod to Jerusalem.

Oy, how good and how pleasant to find an issue worthy of protest from time to time, the kind that won't make too many people angry, the kind that almost everyone can identify with, the kind that we can even be proud of: Look at us, the Israeli fighters for democracy and equality. How good and how pleasant, too, to single out Israel's public enemy number one: the Haredim, the "black hats," all of them. We are allowed to blame them as much as we like; nobody will pay any price for that. We enlightened liberals won't tolerate exclusion. This is not Iran. The Gilad Shalit protest has ended, and we've already begun with the exclusion protest, as befits an alert and involved civil society.

The exclusion of Haredi women really is infuriating, but the exclusion of other injustices from the agenda - the kind that are not as good and pleasant to oppose - is far more infuriating. As important as it is, there is something missing in the battle against the exclusion of women. What's missing is the battle against other exclusions. The high school in Herzliya that a few days ago carried out an exercise demonstrating the exclusion of women, with separate tracks for girls and boys, wouldn't dare do so on other issues: separate tracks for dark-skinned people and whites, as in the racist selection at nightclubs; separate tracks for Jews and Palestinians, as at the separation checkpoints; separate security tracks for Jewish and Arab citizens in the airports. But that's controversial, we won't touch that, we won't oppose that.

There's a consensus against the Haredim; that's why the battle against them will always garner support. The mass-circulation newspapers and commercial television, which wouldn't dare to discuss other injustices, will proudly come out against them. This battle does not require any courage. The public space, whose welfare and justice are now such a source of concern for Israelis, is rife with exclusions. Women in the back seat? A Palestinian can't even board that bus, neither at the front nor back. Try being a Palestinian and boarding bus no. 160 from Hebron to Jerusalem. It's no coincidence that no Tanya has tried to challenge this distorted arrangement. But, of course, Israelis have absolutely no trouble living with that.

The battle against the exclusion of women is raucous. Maybe that's how it is when you're feeling guilty for ignoring other exclusions. Electronic bracelets for waiters? Help, slavery! African refugees in disgraceful conditions? Who cares?

A melange of the important and the secondary, an egregious injustice opposite a minor one - it's better to fight the minor injustice. It photographs better. The exclusion of Haredi women is not a minor injustice, but the reaction against it arouses suspicion. Perhaps our liberal and enlightened society cannot tolerate people who are different. Perhaps we don't see our own flaw - the Haredim are benighted and intolerant, and we are the height of enlightenment and equality, but only on our own terms, of course.

After all, even if 10,000 Haredi women arise and say leave us and our religious practices alone, we won't surrender and we won't give in. Tanya will sit in the front seat, in spite of them. The Haredim are, in any case, society's punching bag. That's why Israelis will furiously oppose discrimination against Haredi women, but won't do the same when it comes to discrimination against secular women, which is sometimes far worse, even if they are permitted to sit wherever they please on the bus.

This struggle is also characterized by generalizations about Haredim, every one of whom is a parasite and an exploiter, a black and benighted community, without any shadings of color - just like the Palestinians, who are all bloodthirsty people who want only to destroy Israel. That's how it is with racism.

We have to fight against Haredi attempts at domination, but the battle has to be proportionate, and it must include every injustice, according to its gravity. But the battle against the Haredim is terribly trendy as well as selective. Tanya will sit in the front seat of the bus at all costs, and we will continue to avert our gaze from what is happening in the back seat of society.