Women’s voices in the corridors of power

by Maskil on 13 Aug 2008

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Visits Israel

(This piece began as a response to the issue of female MKs being excluded from the Knesset choir which sang the national anthem during the British PM’s visit to Israel. It has mutated into a more general rant against the black tide that continues to sweep through the Jewish world (particularly Israel) today. So be it.)

Elsewhere in the world, Jews gravitate towards societies that protect freedom; economic, social and religious.

Elsewhere in the world, Jews are in the forefront of the ongoing struggle to ensure the separation of church (religion) and state.

Elsewhere in the world, Jews recognize, condemn and distance themselves in all ways from religious fundamentalism, whether Christian, Islamic or Jewish.

Elsewhere in the world, Jews are the first to rush to defend the rights of minorities and disadvantaged or marginalized groups, from the largest “minority” (women) to the smallest.

This is as it should be. In Israel, however, the opposite appears to be happening.

Here, the advocates of Grim Judaism are managing to turn back the clock in another arena of public life, and that arena the Knesset, the very body that should be a powerful bulwark against the tyranny of those claiming to speak in the name of tradition.

Middle Israel, the mainstream, the secular and traditional majority that makes up the very essence of Israel appears not to recognize the danger, or perhaps to have become reconciled to it or exhausted by it.

The public figures (including notably and disgracefully the Speaker of the Knesset, Dalia Itzik) who should be fighting these battles appear to have sold out their constituencies once again. Once again the public and the ideals they should be serving have been betrayed, and they have handed over to the Dark Side what does not belong to them; what belongs to all of us.

And so the country that proudly (justifiably) holds itself to be the only outpost of democracy in this benighted region betrays fully half its population in one fell swoop. How? By allowing that a woman’s voice should not be heard singing in the very place that should fight to the death to protect that right.

And to whom do they make this concession?

To the opponents of Zionism, to those whose every action and deed undermines it.

To those who played little part in the making of an independent Israel, and who to this day play only the feeblest role in furthering it.

To those who isolate themselves from the rest of Israeli society, who fail (nay, refuse) to send their sons (and daughters) to defend it, who send their women out to be both breadwinners and caregivers.

To those who contribute little but grasp all they can from the public purse, with their ceaseless demands and their ceaseless procreation.

There are so many threats to the present and future of Israel, this precious and irreplaceable gift from just a few generations that immediately preceded ours, and including the one still with us, our own Greatest Generation.

The most insidious threat, however, is this one. This black tide has the potential to transform Israel from a strong, vibrant democracy where any and every Jew can find a place, into a dismal Kehilla, a bloated Ghetto that will exclude and include, allow and forbid, until Middle Israel gives up and leaves, and those who remain fall to the sword-stroke of a waiting Islam.

Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps. But this would not be the first society to be destroyed because it failed to confront its enemies, domestic and foreign.

Right now the real Israel has the ability and the mandate to end these attacks on its core values.

Just weeks ago, it could have ended this crisis by inviting – politely but firmly – those who find the sound of women’s voices in song offensive (or who can’t concentrate because lust overwhelms them) to simply absent themselves from the event.

Will it still be able to do this in a year from now? In five or ten? I fear the worst.

I’m glad to see that at least some recognize the significance of this seemingly insignificant event. I hope that those who have defended the rights of women in Jewish society elsewhere in the world and on other issues will take up this particular struggle as well.

Time is running out. How much more of this erosion can Israel’s institutions endure?

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