Jerusalem to Repair Defaced Billboards of Women’s Faces

Following Haaretz expose, city hall to reprint the exhibit of female soccer players

Naama Riba
Naama Riba
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A young woman walks past the defaced pictures in Jerusalem, December 2020.
A young woman walks past the defaced pictures in Jerusalem, December 2020. Credit: Emil Salman
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

The Jerusalem Municipality has reportedly agreed to fund the cost of reprinting a billboard photo exhibit of female soccer players by photographer Alma Machness-Kass after Haaretz reported that the images had been defaced earlier this month.

The street-level exhibit features pictures of players from the Maccabi Kishronot Hadera soccer team on a series of 15 billboards at the western entrance to the city near Jerusalem’s iconic Strings Bridge. The pictures were defaced about two weeks ago, prompting a protest by female artists in the city. Machness-Kass filed a police complaint over the vandalism, but the police said they were unable to identify any suspects.

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Initially, city hall denied having any affiliation with the exhibit, according to Kan public broadcasting, although the municipality paid for the initial printing costs. The city has also refused to officially commit to pay for the reprinting of the defaced billboards. But on his own Facebook page Tuesday, Jerusalem city councilor Yosef Havilio wrote that after he raised the issue, the city agreed to fund the repairs.

Havilio suggested that the city post guards after the photos are reinstalled. “In light of the importance of both the subject of gender equality and the prevention of violence, and because unfortunately the police have not managed to prevent the vandalism or catch the perpetrators, I suggest that we protect the exhibit at night against vandalism,” he wrote.

Advertisements featuring women have been routinely defaced allegedly by radical ultra-Orthodox activists. Advertising companies in Jerusalem refuse to accept outdoor ads tht feature women and the Egged bus company no longer permits any people to appear in its Jerusalem bus ads.

On Monday, the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women held a session about the incident at the request of Yisrael Beiteinu MK Yulia Malinovsky. The photos from the exhibit were on display in the committee room.

The session was attended by representatives of women’s groups, female athletes and residents of Ashdod and Beit Shemesh. The panel recommended that local governments where such vandalism occurs pay to replace the damanged material and take steps against the perpetrators.

Justice Ministry lawyer Ariel Balmas said there are legal tools available to deal with vandalism, without regard to the content of the display, including imprisonment and fines. In response to a question by the committee’s chairman, Oded Forer, Balmas said that to the best of his knowledge, no one has ever been charged or convicted in Israel for defacing signs.

Pictures vandalized in Jerusalem, December 9, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Malinovsky said there had been an effort to pass legislation against vandalism targeting gender content and that when she sought to increase the penalties an adviser to a cabinet minister from an ultra-Orthodox party told her that ultra-Orthodox defendants would not have the funds to pay such a fine. The proposed legislation was never passed. “To understand the severity of the situation and how dishonest and hypocritical we are, every elected official passes by the place on Herzl Boulevard where the exhibit is on display several times a day. They vandalized the pictures in a disgusting manner and no one cares. It’s really great to hold a conference once a year through some committee and to get PR, but though it happens under everyone’s noses, nothing gets moving.”

Dimitri Hinblum of the police investigation division said that in the past three years, the police have opened 25 cases involving vandalism of advertisements and that only one was referred to the prosecutor’s office. He also claimed that it was not possible to determine whether the vandals were targetting the person’s gender when they defaced the ad.

A member of Ashdod city council, Orit Almozlino Rize, told the panel: “Just last weekend, there was massive vandalism of signs showing women. It’s gender-based terrorism.” An activist from Beit Shemesh, Shoshana Jaskoll, added: “There are no pictures of women in our city. I can’t leave my car and feel safe.”

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