Brit Harel’s boyfriend couldn’t understand why she kept staring at the bag of salt he had brought back from the market in their neighborhood of Nahlaot in Jerusalem. “Don’t you notice something missing here?” she asked him. “There used to be something blue here,” he recalled. “Yes, a woman!” she responded.
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The exclusion of women from the public domain has reached a new level. This time, the topic of discussion is a packet of Salit table salt that was bought in a non-ultra-Orthodox market in Jerusalem. The package typically features the familiar blue drawing of a woman sprinkling a pinch of salt but on this particular package, the woman was nowhere to be found.
Jerusalem has already seen the disappearance of women from billboards and the ads on the sides of buses. Some of the incidents are institutional – when advertising companies refuse to promote photos of women, or when promoters themselves self-censor. Others occur when people take the law into their own hands – obliterating photos of women with black spray paint and ripping down or burning advertisements showing women.
Following a petition to the High Court of Justice by the group Yerushalmim (“Jerusalemites”), the state announced that the Egged bus company and Canaan, the company that owns the concession to advertise on Egged buses, are not permitted to bar advertising featuring pictures of women. Moreover, the court ruled, the supervisor of transportation must condition the operating of the lines on a complete and total ban on discrimination.
At the beginning of the month, Canaan agreed to run advertising by a movement against the exclusion of women, which does show photos of women. The Jerusalem Municipality also announced that it would act against billboard companies that refrain from presenting photos of women.
This is not the first time women have been erased from packaging in Jerusalem: a few months ago the owner of a toy store in Ramat Eshkol reportedly used stickers to cover images of women in bathing suits that appeared on packages containing flotation rings and pool toys. But in the Salit case, the decision to remove the woman from the salt packaging was made not by a store owner, but rather by the manufacturer, Salit Salts.
“Stickers are almost understandable,” Harel told Haaretz, “because the exclusion of women is not new in Jerusalem. But to remove the salt’s emblem [from the logo] – everyone would agree she’s a modest woman and it was very weird that they took it off. The emblem is Salit – they can’t do that!”
Salit is a subsidiary of Shari Arison’s Israel Salt Industries, the country’s largest salt manufacturer. The American-Israeli businesswoman’s Arison Group is also the controlling shareholder in Bank Hapoalim, which recently removed a female character from its advertisements. TV personalities Erez Tal and Alma Zack starred in its long-running campaign, until a few months ago when Zack was removed from billboards in Bnei Brak and replaced with the bank’s familiar emblem of a dwarf called Dan Haschan (Dan the Saver).
In response, the bank said it “respects all its customers, regardless of religion, race and gender, and takes into account only professional considerations regarding advertisements.”
Responding to the removal of Salit’s brand emblem, the company said, “The character of the woman was removed from the packages of Salit table salt that are kosher for Passover under Badatz [rabbinical court] supervision, so as to create a distinction between Passover and non-Passover products. Packages of Salit table salt that are sold throughout the year under Badatz supervision bear the image of the woman.”
Since the first report of the incident in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz Magazine on Friday, dozens of readers have responded with comments saying the decision to remove the woman from Salit packaging was like rubbing salt into the wound of the exclusion of women from the public domain. Many tried to understand how the modest image on the Salit package posed a threat to Israeli men, at times referring to the ultra-Orthodox community with hostility.