Opinion

A Glass Ceiling for Druze Women?

How about the ceiling put in place by the Haaretz writer who insists that anyone who doesn’t live according to her worldview is challenged.

Ghadir Kamal Meriah.
Ihab Husri

In her article,“Meet Israel’s first female Druze TV news anchor,” Ariana Melamed addresses the many glass ceilings that Druze society imposes on its women, as well as the ceilings Israeli society positions above its minorities. I want to speak about the glass ceiling that Melamed and people like her place above everyone who is different from them.

From Melamed’s tone and approach, I’m guessing that she’s a secular liberal, presumably leftist, who loves mankind and minorities everywhere; in fact, she’s so fond of minorities that she wants to save them from themselves, to liberate them from their ignorance. However, her approach turns the entire Druze society in all its varieties – secular, traditional, religious and atheist – into one “ultra-Orthodox” monolith.

Of all Melamed’s claims, her statement that, “If she [the Druze woman] leaves her allocated compound for an academic or another career, she will never be able to completely fit into the world outside the community,” is the most problematic. Melamed’s suspicions regarding the ability of Ghadir Kamal Meriah in particular, and of Druze woman in general, betray her own skepticism that whoever was raised or educated differently from her cannot realize her inherent potential in the big world, the “outside” world, as she puts it, which she apparently thinks the “Druze compound and society” aren’t part of.

Melamed doesn’t allow herself to be confused by nuances or facts, and eruditely insists that whoever doesn’t live according to her worldview is necessarily challenged. But in reality, the fact that a woman is traditional, ultra-Orthodox, or any other profile that differs from the liberal-secular feminine ideal doesn’t mean that she is necessarily backward or repressed. As a Druze woman in whose family secular and religious people live under one roof harmoniously and with mutual respect, I want to point out that the rights and status of the Druze woman are enshrined in religious writings and laws. Except in extreme cases, which exist in every society, they are generally adhered to.

Contrary to what Melamed writes, the Druze are meant to marry for love and marriage is the independent choice of both partners. The matchmaker mechanism is not accepted, not even among more traditional groups. A Druze woman has the full right to request and receive a divorce without becoming, as happens to some Jewish women, an aguna who is chained to a dead marriage.

Melamed cites the stringent rules of those committed to a traditional lifestyle, but one should note that these laws apply to men and women alike, with the aim of equalizing rights and duties between the sexes. A conservative lifestyle and returning to religion happen among Druze only by choice, and never by coercion, among men and women alike.

It’s true that, as in other societies, in Druze society there are gaps between men’s and women’s status. It frustrates me – as a diplomat and a career woman – to think that a Druze woman has a better and more realistic chance of achieving a senior executive position outside her community than of ever becoming a council member of her native village. Still, one can’t deny the significant changes that have occurred in Israel’s Druze community.

As in other societies, in Druze society you can find women who did the “impossible” by deviating from accepted norms and paving the way for subsequent generations. In every Druze village they can proudly recite the names of those pioneers – the first woman to work out of the village, the first doctor, school principal, bank manager, actress and so on. I can tell you about several Druze artists, a police officer, a doctoral student doing brain research, excellent musicians and even a gifted engineer at NASA. Even the most traditional Druze acknowledge these pioneers.

In most Druze villages today women can study and work in almost any field they choose. Almost, because we do have some professions that are still considered male domains and women who pursue them will have to deal with criticism and disfavor.

The special, worthy, and exciting achievement by Kamal Meriah is not coincidental and is not divorced from the positive trends in Druze society in recent years. Her accomplishment is a direct product of these significant changes and the willingness of that society to go with the times, even as it constantly, and legitimately, seeks to maintain the required balance to preserve the Druze character and identity.

The writer is a diplomat in Israel’s Foreign Service.