Election Campaign Ads in ultra-Orthodox Israeli Suburb Censor Faces of Female Politicians

The face of Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni was blurred, and Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg was told her image had to be removed from the billboard

The "unity campaign" billboard in Bnei Brak. The photo of Tzipi Livni has been removed.
Motti Milrod

The faces of two prominent Israeli female politicians running in the upcoming election were censored in a sign hung in an ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb; the faces of their male counterparts were left untouched.

In one case, the billboards, which promote a “unity campaign” calling on the heads of the country's centrist parties to come together in a united front, censored the face of Hatnuah chair Tzipi Livni, the only female party leader who appeared on the original version of the billboard..

According to Hutzot Zahav, the company handling billboard advertising for the Bnei Brak municipality, it was the group behind the advertising campaign that requested a male-only version of the billboard to avoid creating a provocation among ultra-Orthodox residents. 

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For its part, however, the unity campaign denied that it had asked for a different billboard version, telling Haaretz it received “a clear directive from the sign company" stating that the municipality doesn't permit billboards with women's images. “Our initiative calls for all of the leaders of the centrist [parties] to unite, including Tzipi Livni, who has expressed support for the idea,” the campaign said in a response.

The original unity campaign billboard with Tzipi Livni's picture
Tomer Appelbaum

Ultra-Orthodox publications often ban images of women, especially their faces, in what editors describe as reasons of tradition and modesty.

Earlier, Hutzot Zahav advised the left-wing Meretz party that advertising with the image of party chairwoman Tamar Zandberg could not be put up at two sites on Bnei Brak's city boundaries, across from the Ayalon Mall and at the Geha junction. Meretz scrapped the billboards for Bnei Brak rather than agreeing to use ads without Zandberg’s face. Following the incident, Meretz put the city and the advertising firm on notice of its intention to sue them.

“Inequality in advertising and the exclusion of women constitute a violation of equality in advertising and in the election. Women must be allowed to run in elections in Israel, and it follows from this that they be allowed to advertise in public [particularly] when the material is respectful, to the point and not provocative,” the letter said.

Female Knesset members from the Yesh Atid party have asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to take action on the matter.

In a written response, the Bnei Brak municipality said Tuesday that it had just received the request regarding the advertising with women and it was being evaluated by the city’s legal adviser. A city official who spoke to Haaretz on the condition of anonymity said, however, that the municipality would never allow outdoor advertising picturing women.

"Everyone understands the rules of the game and the target audience,” he said. “It’s what the people in the city demand. The city council has 27 members, 26 of whom are not interested in having pictures of women in the streets. Just as there are ultra-Orthodox newspapers without pictures of women ... the same is the case in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city. The advertising agencies, the licensees and everyone in the industry know this, and no one would dare entangle themselves with the city government, because tomorrow it could end its relationship with the advertiser’s agency.”