Ikea Apologizes for 'Modest' Women-free Catalog for Israel's ultra-Orthodox

'This is not what the Ikea brand stands for,' spokeswoman says after local catalogue tries to cater to ultra-Orthodox.

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A page from the ultra-Orthodox version of the Ikea Israel catalogue.
A page from the ultra-Orthodox version of the Ikea Israel catalogue.Credit: Scrennshot

Ikea, the Swedish-based furniture and housewares chain, apologized late Friday for publishing a catalogue with no images of women in it exclusivity for Israel ultra-Orthodox community.

Ikea, which has three stores in Israel, recently began distributing the separate catalogue, adapted to the values of the country's religious community, Israeli media reported this week. In keeping with the practice among ultra-Orthodox publications, no pictures of women appear in the catalogue.

IKEA spokeswoman Josefin Thorell said late Friday that the catalog "is not something that has gone through us." Speaking to Swedish news agency TT, she said "we have been very clear that this is not what the Ikea brand stands for." Thorell said Ikea's Israeli franchise had made an "error" when it "had tried to reach a consumer group."

The cover of the ultra-Orthodox version of the Ikea Israel catalogue.Credit: Screenshot

The catalogue reportedly features furniture that would be in particular demand among ultra-Orthodox families, or Haredim as they are known in Hebrew, among whom very large families are the norm. Highlighted therefore are baby cribs, bunk beds and book shelves for religious books, Ynet noted.

According to a 2014 estimate of the JDC-Brookdale Institute, ultra-Orthodox Israelis make up about 11% of Israel's population. A larger proportion of the population is less fervently Orthodox.

Ikea's Israeli headquarters issued a statement explaining the decision to create the special religious version of the ubiquitous standard catalogue. "Due to requests we received, we decided to launch an alternative and special catalogue, which allows the religious and Haredi communities to enjoy thumbing through our products and the solutions that IKEA offers in accordance with their lifestyle," Ynet reported.

The standard catalogue is distributed in print and online versions. Ikea said the religious version is available free of charge in print and features the same prices as the regular catalogue.

The practice of excluding images of women in publications geared for the ultra-Orthodox community is not limited to Israel. The English-language Monsey, New York newspaper Yated Ne'eman, attracted attention in its coverage of last year of the U.S. presidential election campaign. Despite its policy of not publishing pictures of women, the newspaper published a picture of the arm of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee at the time, taken at a Florida campaign rally. Clinton’s face, however, was completely covered by her podium.

Haredi Orthodox publications often ban images of women, especially their faces, in what editors describe as reasons of tradition and modesty. The ban is applied to all women, including world leaders and major public figures like Clinton.

“It’s not just her politics that worries these publications, although they are far to the right of Clinton on most issues,” Columbia University journalism professor Ari Goldman wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review. “More troublesome is her gender.”

The Washington Post noted that the Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamevaser blurred out women world leaders in a photograph of a solidarity parade in Paris following the 2015 terrorist attacks in the French capital on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

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