Hundreds Protest for Women's Rights in Rallies Across Israel

Demonstrations spurred by recent incidents of separation between men and women; Jerusalem city council member: State cannot stay silent in face of public mainstream.

Hundreds of people amassed in multiple locations across Israel on Friday to protest what they conceive as the exclusion of women from the public sphere.

The protests, led by Hila Benyovich-Hoffman, were organized in the wake of recent incidents, mainly in the Israel Defense Forces, including occasions in which women's singing was prohibited.

Women's rights - Haggai Freid - 11.11.2011
Haggai Fried

In one example last month, following orders from Israel Defense Forces' rabbis, female soldiers were asked to leave the central event and had to celebrate in a separate area during the traditional dancing that marks the end of the Simhat Torah holiday.

Speaking at the Tel Aviv rally, organized near the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, one woman told Haaretz that they came to "prove that we can't be silenced."

However, the rally was far from being exclusively female, with one man saying: "The country is shifting toward religious extremism, in the army too, something we find very troubling."

The Jerusalem rally was attended by hundreds, most of whom were women, who gathered on the Jerusalem Chords Bridge in the entrance to the capital.

Jerusalem council member Rachel Azaria, who attended the local rally, told Haaretz that "we, women and men, secular, religious, and, slowly, Haredi, are changing the rules of the game and of discourse."

"As long as a few people are shouting, nothing will happen. But you can't silence the public mainstream for too long," Azaria said, adding: "Even if we used to be a small group, now we are a mass."

Last week, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat fired Azaria from her position in the city council's coalition after she appealed the High Court over gender separation in the capital's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.