This was an article I wrote for the Jewish national paper, the Jewish Chronicle. With all the adverts being released for Israel Independence Day parties, it was disappointing to find one advert in particular which was inappropriate and highly sexist. My angry fingers got itching. Anyways, having spent weeks researching the Jewish Chronicle‘s coverage of the 1982 Lebanon War for my dissertation, it was pretty damn snazzy to have email correspondence with an editor who was a prolific journalist in the time period I was studying! Either way, I was lucky enough to have an op-ed printed in the paper and I even got a by-line! More importantly, my mum got another clipping to stick on the fridge door. Honestly? That’s what I go to school for.
The Land of MILFS and Honey
Published 9.04.2014 (the Jewish Chronicle)
It’s nearly May and the Yom Ha’atzmaut party invitations are starting to swing around. No matter your age group, your Tube station – and dare I say it – your stance on the Green Line campaign, the choice is unlimited for where you can go on May 5th. That is, of course, unless you’re into wholesale gender equality.
I wish I could say I was more surprised when the original advert for the Zionist Federation and Young Magen Dovid Adom’s Blue & White Party first hit my Facebook news feed. Though fairly typical in its choice of Zionist hero (this time, the great Theodor Herzl) and standard El Al aeroplane, right in the middle of the advert was a scantily clad woman in a sexed-up, Halloween version of an IDF uniform. The message was clear: Israeli women are for sex, not for celebrating.
Considering the number of female role models in Israel’s illustrious history, it’s fair to say that this is more than a little disappointing. There is something highly problematic about the fact that in 2014, the best representation of an Israeli woman the ZF and the YMDA can come up with is essentially a glamour model. Not Hannah Senesh, not Orly Castel-Bloom, not even a Natalie Portman. And not – might I add – an actual female IDF soldier. And while there are thousands of young Israelis (of all genders and faiths) serving right this minute, here we are imagining that the holy land is just a place of MILFS and honey.
But the problems exposed in the ZF advert go even further. Having received multiple complaints on social media, the advert was edited and re-released with a photo of an ambulance in place of their token female. It remains as hyper-masculine as before, and still there is no effort made to reach out to the young women in our community. It seems to me that if we won’t conform to male expectations, then maybe we just aren’t wanted. Yet strangely, when I think of Golda Meir, my first thoughts aren’t about how fit she looked in her trademark beads.
Unfortunately, one of the shortcomings of our community is the tendency to shrink back from promoting a full and rounded picture of Israel to our young people. While it’s incredibly important to be engaged with the cultural symbolisms and meaning of Israel, we simply aren’t keeping up with the reality of the homeland. We’re at risk of adopting a simplistic image of what we want our peers to see in Israel, but the longer we try to stay in this bubble, the more distant we’ll become from Israeli society itself. It’s so much more than sun, sex and shwarma.
We have to educate our youth that Israel is a complex country of immense political variety. In the past few months, we’ve seen the breakdown of the peace process and the Foreign Ministry strike, both having worldwide effect. There’s been a surge in improving accessibility for disabled citizens in Jerusalem’s restaurants and shops. The Welfare Ministry has even announced it is donating NIS 7.5 million to charities to provide food aid for Passover. Where is the recognition of all these developments in our Yom Ha’atzmaut leaflets?
We’ve got an opportunity right here in our hands to turn it all around. Our youth movements, synagogues and community organisations have all got the power and the resources to reignite our passion for learning and our hunt for truth. It only takes one person to put up their hand and start asking the right questions. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time at UJS and from behind the wheel of the Rethink2014 campaign, it’s that even if I don’t find the answers, there’s never a good time to stop asking questions.
If we can only take one thing from Yom Ha’atzmaut this year, it’s that I hope it comes back in 2015 with a celebration of strong women at its forefront. Sure, Israel does have a few good beaches – and of course, you never know who you might meet at these events. But there is so much more to Israel than being a hummus-fuelled holiday destination. And there’s even more to Israeli women than a fake, barely visible IDF costume.