Israeli Agency to Stop Censoring Women From ultra-Orthodox Ad Campaigns

Israel's Government Advertising Agency completely reverses its policy in response to criticism that it 'discriminates against female' figures in the media

A sign for separating men and women in Beit Shemesh, 2017
Emil Salman

The official Government Advertising Agency will stop removing women from government ad campaigns it runs in ultra-Orthodox media outlets.

The ad agency, known by its Hebrew acronym Lapam, informed the Israel Religious Action Center of the Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel of its new policy, after the center complained a year ago about the agency cooperating in the exclusion of women in the media.

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The new policy is a complete change after Lapam previously claimed it “could not force media outlets to publish ads they did not want, including reasons of containing women."

In recent years, the government ad agency, which is responsible for all government advertising and has an annual budget of some 300 million shekels ($82.5 million), would send ultra-Orthodox radio stations ads for broadcast that include only male voices.

In August 2017, IRAC sent a complaint to Shlomo Adiel, the acting director general of Lapam at the time. The complaint called this policy “self-censorship that discriminates against female [radio] announcers and hosts who are not allowed to participate in these ads.” IRAC also said that the policies of Lapam discriminate against listeners who are prevented from hearing women’s voices.

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In response Adiel that he “rejects the claims in its entirety” and he regrets that he is unable to force the media to broadcast ads they do not want to. He suggested complaining to the “relevant media outlets” instead.

IRAC responded saying if the Ultra-Orthodox media refuses to broadcast ads with women, Lapam must stop working with them. It is unknown how much of their ad budget went to these radio stations.

In 2015, the Supreme Court approved the filing of a class action lawsuit against the ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol Berama for its alleged exclusion of women from the air. The case is currently on tiral in the Jerusalem District Court. As a result of the legal proceedings, the station has changed its policy and now employs female broadcasters and also includes interviews of women.

The present director general of Lapa, Boaz Stambler, along with Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, who is responsible for the legal battle against the exclusion of women, discussed the issue over the past few months.

Last week, Stambler formulated a completely new policy: “Lapam and the Justice Ministry agree that the exclusion of women in public spaces is an unacceptable and serious phenomenon. A a situation in which women are excluded from government advertising intended for the Ultra-Orthodoxi community must be avoided,” wrote Stambler to IRAC in his letter.

Stambler also promised that Lapam would not make changes in ads aimed at the Ultra-Orthodox community in ways that would discriminate against women. In addition, Stambler added that the government would not advertise with media outlets who refuse to publish or broadcast ads with women.