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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination » Meanwhile in gender: Israel hosts men only economic conference

Meanwhile in gender: Israel hosts men only economic conference

While our attention is rightly on the new anti-boycott law

, this development reminds us of the other inequalities in Israeli society. While not the keystone oppression like that of Palestinians, conditions for women seem to be worsening, as they often do in both situations of conquest and religious fundamentalism. It is also worth noting that defenders of Israel often criticize gender relations in Arab societies as if it was a problem unique to them.

Frances Raday covers the conference  for Ha’aretz and notes the participation of officials of the same government that passed the anti-boycott law. She also cites the traditinon of female breadwinners in traditional Judaism, freeing men up for study. (I don’t know if this unique to Judaism as she claims, but it is certainly distinctive.) She predicts that this will lead to increased segregation of the labor sector to allow for more men’s participation.

[Jerusalem Mayor] Steinitz and [Finance Minister] Barkat’s participation in the conference follows this pattern of political endorsement. What is new here is the exclusion of women from participation in the economic sphere.

Ultra-Orthodox women are often the family breadwinners, a phenomenon unique to Judaism. This is not equality, but simply a way to let men pursue the more important goal of studying and praying.

The new departure is an indication of shifting values in the Orthodox community, which is now beginning to understand the importance of economic activity. Leaving aside internal community politics, the result is devastating for a liberal economy.

There are clear indicators that women need to be full participants in the economy in order for it to flourish. The prime minister has indeed remarked that it takes two working parents to keep a family out of poverty. In Israel, the low participation rate of Arab women (and Haredi men ) in the workforce is a central factor impeding economic growth.

The men-only economic conference at Binyanei Ha’uma promises to put Jewish women outside the labor market, too. The growing segregation of women in Israel will affect not only Orthodox women. Men who insist on segregation in the army, in class and in political parties are not going to cooperate with women in the workplace.

The more the ultra-Orthodox enter the workforce, the more women are going to find themselves marginalized and excluded. The solution has to be clearly conditioning the use of public resources, public spaces and the political arena on equal access and participation for all Israelis, including women. The lack of political will evinced by the Knesset and the government will no doubt once again leave the Supreme Court as Israel’s only guardian of liberal democracy.

Here’s hoping for increasing alliances of all those excluded by this government, from Palestinians to Israeli women.

Written by

JESSE BACON (Philadelphia) is a freelance activist and father. He has a Masters in teaching from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is an observant progressive Jew, and is trying to be a good ally for Palestinians and all dispossessed peoples, while staying true to the best traditions in Judaism. He visited Israel and Palestine in 1996, 2001, and 2002. He served for three years on the local steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, and one year on the board of Pursue the Peace in Seattle. Read his posts here.

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