Israeli City Bars Female Singing Solos in Memorial Day Ceremony Because of 'Public Sensitivities'

Company hired to produce event pulls out because of ban; municipality denies accusations, says solos were never part of ceremony.

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Women protesting in Jerusalem against the exclusion of women from the public arena, December 23, 2011.
Women protesting in Jerusalem against the exclusion of women from the public arena, December 23, 2011. Credit: Michal Fattal

A community center at the southern city of Sderot has barred women from singing solo at the municipal Memorial Day ceremony out of consideration for religious sensitivities, locals claim. 

"Some people are bothered by it I think that if we as a culture center serve the general public, we have to pay attention to sensitivities too," the culture center director, Limor Cohen, was heard saying in a recording aired by Channel 10 on Friday.  

Also, in a document obtained by Haaretz and Channel 10, the company hired to produce next month’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day ceremonies told the city it was withdrawing because the city would not let females sing solo at the ceremony “out of consideration for the religious audience.”

The municipality, for its part, said political groups were “trying to create a provocation in the city.” It said that at such ceremonies it wants to let all artists from Sderot take part, so no solos are allowed; this decision has been in place for years.

Adar Sabri, 21, had to withdraw from the ceremony after female solo performances were banned. She told Haaretz she was phoned a month ago and asked to sing in the Memorial Day ceremony. Rehearsals began a few days ago, but the ceremony’s director called her.

“The community-center management proposed an alternative idea: If we still wanted to sing, a woman’s voice couldn’t be heard in a solo. Other people’s voices had to be in the background,” Sabri said.

“This isn’t the first time it has happened to me. I experienced it at the memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, too. A minute before I was to go on stage the director of the youth movement called out my mother and me and took us out of the hall,” Sabri added.

“He said I couldn’t sing because religious people were coming – even though it was agreed in advance that when I sang they would remain outside, and when I finished they would come in.”

The artistic producer for the ceremony told the community-center chief she could not do the ceremony under conditions of “concealing women singing.” Instead she proposed that women be accompanied by musicians playing instruments.

The deputy mayor and head of the community center, Yehudit Oliel, blamed “political groups.”

“This is a professional disagreement between the director of the community center and the director of the ceremony .... I’m convinced that she’s motivated by political groups trying to create a provocation in the city,” Oliel said.

“I want to note that the budget for women in Sderot has grown, and the finest women singers and entertainers perform at Sderot’s community center.”

At many events organized by the city, women sing and perform alone, including on Independence Day this year and last, the city added.

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