Israeli paper refuses to print photos of PM-in-waiting

// 14 October 2008

An Orthodox Jewish newspaper in Israel has refused to print photos of Tzipi Livni, set to become the country’s second female prime minister, because she is a woman, reports Reuters*.

Citing concerns for feminine modesty, the ultra-Orthodox refuse to publish images of women in their newspapers — a core source of information as the reclusive community generally shuns the television, Internet and most radio stations….

At meetings with religious legislators on forming political partnership, Livni dons demure skirts and wrist-length jackets, not the pant-suits she usually favors.

Such deference irks many Israeli feminists, who argue it risks papering over the cultural rift in a mostly secular Israel whose Supreme Court and parliament both have women presidents.

According to the Mail, newspapers have also said they will not publish Livni’s first name, refering to her only as ‘Mrs Livni’. It is common practice for Haredi newspapers to ban images of women, and blur out women’s faces.

While influential Israeli newspapers literally make Livni invisible, newspapers in Syria and Canada focus only on her looks – but Reuters doesn’t recognise this as problematic, of course, leading its story like this:

The Syrian state press has described her as a “Mossad beauty.” A Palestinian cartoonist compared her to the Mona Lisa. One Canadian report called her “naturally blonde with eyes as blue as the Mediterranean.”

Yet Tzipi Livni, asked by Israel’s president on Monday to form a government following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation, remains largely faceless when it comes to her country’s powerful ultra-Orthodox Jews, or haredim.

Just as an aside, I’ve not been following this election at all, and I’m not sure what Livni’s politics are.

Photo shared under a Creative Commons license, by the World Economic Forum

*Note: Another story about women’s rights consigned to the ‘Oddly Enough’ section on Reuters – sigh

Comments From You

Lauren O // Posted 14 October 2008 at 6:18 pm

One Canadian report called her ā€œnaturally blonde with eyes as blue as the Mediterranean.ā€

Oh thank God. I was afraid that a Jewish woman might not look stereotypically Aryan. Now that I know she doesn’t have dark hair or eyes, I feel she is fit to be Prime Minister.

*rolls eyes*

Cara // Posted 15 October 2008 at 11:14 am

*sigh* more, er, religious crap then.


Images of men are fine, I suppose? I mean just by existing women are temptresses? Ooooookay.

We have this image of Muslims being the evil misogynists who make women cover up, actually “hijab” is a general term originating in the Middle East for covering up for religious reasons – it can apply to Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Religions are all bad for women, I guess, is the only conclusion.

And *snorts* at the Reuters comment. OMG not all Jewish people look like a stereotype?! No!!!

Cara // Posted 16 October 2008 at 12:04 pm

Ooookaaay…wow. They don’t publish *any* photos of women at all in this paper? Extreme.

The western media seem mainly to portray Muslims as being misogynist, forcing women to cover up and so on, ignoring other religions…we can forget that *all* religion is misogynist. Now “which religion is most/ least misogynist” competitions are stupid because *all* religion is bad for women. All of them.

“Hijab” is not actually a Muslim term – it’s a general term originating in the Middle East, that Muslims, Jews and Christians have used – yes, orthodox Christians in that area of the world had and still have similar ideas of modesty.

All this – covering, not printing images of women etc. – is an attempt to make women uniform, faceless, generic.

It’s all about denying women public space and identity.

And I’m not having a go just at religious people/ non-white people/ whatever. As pointed out in the second half of the piece, it is just as bad that our media is so obsessed with women’s looks – a female cannot be in politics without her choice of outfits, shoes, hairdo etc. being scrutinised. In a way it’s also imposing a uniformity, that women have to be sex objects (and what’s plastic surgery about if not standardising?)

Lauren O, yes LOL – not only are western media obsessed with women’s appearance, they had to comment that she is BLONDE and BLUE EYED! OMG some Jewish people are not stereotypically Jewish looking! Their minds cannot compute! *rolls eyes*.

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 October 2008 at 12:26 pm

@Cara – I would see this as an example not of religion being at fault, or even Orthodox versions of Judiasm. There are Orthodox Jewish women, who are not liberal/reform, who are working against things like this while still defining themselves as Orthodox Jews. For example, I’ve interviewed Orthodox women who set up their own Orthodox synagogues on feminist lines, where women do the readings (taboo in Orthodox Judiasm) and feminist interpretations are used. In the US there is also the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

It’s certainly not for me (see: all religion), but I wouldn’t want to erase the work being done to change Orthodox communities from the inside, and I think that many women in those communities would argue that it’s not faith per se, but culture that has produced many of these undeniably problematic issues. How far can their efforts to make change from the inside be successful? I’m not sure.

The problem with a rule like this in a newspaper is that, for me, it’s not women actively chosing to adhere to a certain rule, it’s the (come on, very likely male) newspaper editors imposing the invisibility on women, regardless of whether they would like or welcome or hate their photographs to be used. To have a general rule that no women’s photos will be used has nothing to do with the personal religious choices of individual women, it’s the newspaper as an establishment saying that women should not be visibile, should not be a visibile part of public life, no matter what their newsworthiness or personal views on issues such as covering their hair, etc.

Cara // Posted 16 October 2008 at 1:22 pm

Jess – absolutely. I don’t disagree with anything you said.

I wasn’t singling out any religion in particular… and I certainly wasn’t blaming individual women for their personal religious choices.

That is really interesting about orthodox Jewish women working to change Orthodox communities from the inside…I used to live in Stamford Hill, and certainly didn’t get the impression the women were poor oppressed creatures!

Yes, of course culture and not religion per se has caused issues – that’s pretty much the problem. e.g. dietary laws make much sense when you think back to when people didn’t have fridges. as they wouldn’t get food poisoning!

I don’t have an issue with spirituality, but organised religion it seems to me is very open to being used for abuse of power. You can’t deny that religion *can* normalise/ make acceptable such abuses of power, such as domestic violence.

I’m not saying religion necessarily has to do that. And yes, these issues are often cultural as well, but religion is adapted to suit the needs of that culture so that those with power can abuse it.

Also, religion is often anti-scientific. So yes, I don’t really approve of organised religion.

Just my personal view. I wouldn’t remove anyone’s right to follow a religion though, and if religion can progress (cf. allowing women bishops, accepting gay people etc.) then great, certainly better than not doing so (because “it’s always been that way”.)

What I was trying to say, was effectively the same as your point about “the establishment saying that women should not be visible” – I *do* see the connection between not publishing photos of women and covering up, because it’s exactly that -the establishment, whether the media or religious figures, saying that women should be invisble in public life.

Again, I don’t criticise any individual women for choosing to follow a religion and for following religious rules about dress. I don’t mean to sound as if such women are mere victims and poor oppressed creatures compared to enlightened atheist women or something…but…at the same time at least *some* women don’t have a choice in any real sense whether to be part of a religion, and on how to interpret the rules of that religion. I am not saying that applies to *all* religious women, or all women who choose to cover up in some way. I am really thinking more of women in certain societies – where disobedience would mean suffering isolation, violence, and death. I don’t wish to point to any in particular, but in some societies, if a woman wanted to leave a fundamentalist/ orthodox religious community where she might be experiencing violence and oppression, she would have a lot more help to do that than in others. Obviously even in westernised countries it is never an easy thing to do to leave one’s family and friends if they are very religious…

Anyway. I’m rambling.

I didn’t intend to slate religion per se, I guess, more the way religion is often played out in reality, the extreme manifestations of orthodox/ fundamentalist religion as a tool for the patriarchy.

Cara // Posted 16 October 2008 at 1:44 pm

Just to add, I don’t mean to come across as some kind of cultural imperialist…obviously the voices of orthodox Jewish/ Muslim/ *insert religion* women should be heard, but that *is* the problem, as you said, too often in very religious societies women are invisible and unheard because those societies are patriarchal (and of course the editors are male! That’s kind of the point I was making, that often these religious rules are imposed by patriarchy, i.e. men!)

The question is, how do “western” (just to clarify, correct me if that is an offensive term, and of course it’s more complex with the Jewish community as most of them here/ in the US are European in origin anyway…guess I mean mainstream/ atheist feminists)

feminists work *with* these women to help *them* to effect change from the inside?

Or are we needed at all? Even if only to support such efforts?

There’s a fine line between working against actual misogyny in religion – which cultural differences is *never* an excuse for, ever – and imposing things that don’t work in that context and the women in religious communities never asked for.

Kath // Posted 16 October 2008 at 6:16 pm

Jess, religion *is* culture.

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