ETHAN BRONNER & ISABEL KERSHNER
In the three months since the Israeli Health Ministry awarded a prize to a pediatrics professor for her book on hereditary diseases in Jews,her experience at the awards ceremony has become a rallying cry.
The professor,Channa Maayan,knew that the acting health minister,who is ultra-Orthodox,and other religious people would be in attendance. So she wore a long-sleeve top and a long skirt. But that was hardly enough.
Not only did Dr. Maayan and her husband have to sit separately,as men and women were segregated at the event,but she was instructed that a male colleague would have to accept the award for her because women were not permitted on stage.
Though shocked that this was happening at a government ceremony,Dr. Maayan bit her tongue. But others have not,and her story is entering the pantheon of secular anger building as a battle rages in Israel for control of the public space between the strictly religious and everyone else.
The list of controversies grows weekly: Organisers of a conference last week on womens health and Jewish law barred women from speaking from the podium; ultra-Orthodox men spit on an 8-year-old girl whom they deemed immodestly dressed; the chief rabbi of the air force resigned his post because the army declined to excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events where female singers perform; protesters depicted the Jerusalem police commander as Hitler on posters because he instructed public bus lines with mixed-sex seating to drive through ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods; vandals blacked out womens faces on Jerusalem billboards.
Public discourse in Israel is suddenly dominated by a new,high-toned Hebrew phrase,hadarat nashim, or the exclusion of women. The term is everywhere in recent weeks,rather like the way the phrase male chauvinism emerged decades ago in the US.