In Wake of Skirt Protest: Knesset Suspends Dress Code Until New One Is Drafted

Knesset director general reportedly received complaints about immodest dress of staffers, with some describing some women's attire as 'Sodom and Gomorrah.'

Israeli parliamentary aides protest the new dress code at Knesset, December 14, 2016.
Emil Salman

The Knesset dress code will not be enforced until a new one is penned in agreement with all those involved, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and a group of lawmakers decided Wednesday after a stormy meeting. The MKs objected to Knesset guards denying entry to 10 female parliamentary aides after alleging that their attire didn’t meet the building’s dress code.

The women were among 40 Knesset staffers who deliberately wore short dresses and skirts to protest the delays their peers encountered while trying to entering the building over the past week on grounds that their hemlines were too high. Most of the protesters were allowed through. After close to six hours, the detained aides were eventually allowed into the building without having to change their clothes.

After learning that his own aide had been asked to open her coat at the Knesset’s gates so that a guard could size up the length of her dress, MK Manuel Trajtenberg took off his shirt in protest at the entrance, saying, “Tomorrow all of you will have a burqa.”

The guards’ recent preoccupation with female staffers’ hemlines followed a memorandum distributed last October by Knesset Director General Albert Sakharovich to enforce the dress code. Sakharovich recently received around 10 complaints from both male and female MKs regarding the inappropriate and immodest way that some staffers dress, a Knesset source told Haaretz.

“They complained of a general feeling that the attire doesn’t convey respect for the Knesset,” the source said. “It was imperative to enforce the dress code.”

Sakharovich reportedly said in private conversations that MKs described the way some women dressed in the Knesset as “Sodom and Gomorrah.” No men were denied entrance due to their attire.

The dress code prohibits coming to work in “inappropriate dress such as: vests, tank tops, shorts, short skirts and dresses, flip-flops and the like.” It also forbids wearing clothes bearing a political statement.

However, the guidelines don't specify the appropriate length for a short dress; the issue is open to interpretation.

Edelstein and the lawmakers agreed to set up a joint team of MKs and Knesset managerial staff to examine the dress code and draft a new one. The team, which will also include male and female parliamentary aides, will determine how long staffers’ hemlines should be.

MKs suggested at the meeting that if their aides dress inappropriately, they should be the ones to point it out rather than the Knesset guards.

The Knesset Officer and Sakharovich said on Wednesday they feel an injustice had been done them and that the guards have been wrongfully accused of sexual harassment and disrespectful conduct toward women.

“It was an ugly provocation to get headlines,” a Knesset official said.

A Knesset spokesman said only one aide was denied entry, while four other aides’ clothing was examined. “The rest chose to stay at the entrance although they could have gone in,” he said.

In the last three days, since Haaretz broke the story, MKs Rahel Azaria and Merav Ben Ari of Kulanu, Meretz's Tamar Zandberg and Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) held several meetings with Sakharovich in a bid to solve the issue.

“The hemline length cannot be seen in Israel merely as an objective dress code because it touches on sensitive nerves of culture and religion,” Azaria said.

“I asked at the meetings to have the team determining the new dress code consist mostly of women, and to suspend the enforcement. I’m glad the speaker and director agreed and I'm convinced we’ll reach an agreement,” she said.