Committee discusses defacement of images of women, opposition brings up Women of the Wall

On Tuesday, May 17th, 2022, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a hearing on legislation that would increase criminal penalties on vandalism that defaces public images of women. Opposition MKs attempted to steer the discussion towards religious rights and Women of the Wall.

The legislation, which was initially introduced almost exactly a year prior on May 18th, 2021, and passed its preliminary vote in the Knesset on November 10th by a vote of 49-33. The latest committee hearing was in advance of second and third votes on the bill.

(Photo credit: ynet)

The bill includes an explanation of the motive of such a proposal:

Recently, the phenomenon of defacing public signs with images of women has been on the rise throughout the country. Those who deface signs black out and blur the images of women, but do not harm the images of men. The phenomenon occurs in relation to images of women on monetary bills and on officiation documents, and its purpose is to exclude women from the public sphere.

The destruction of pictures of women in the public sphere is a violent act whose goal is to make women invisible, and to silence their voices and their influence. At its core, such an act treats women as a hazard and as sexual objects that must be hidden. Exclusion and hiding of women and the attempt to create spaces ‘sterile’ of women is denigrating, hurtful, and overflows with misogyny. Exclusion of women reached the most recent election cycle, during which there were many cases of destroying billboards with female candidates competing in the elections. These actions harm the basic right of women to be elected, as well as the rights – of men and women – to vote, to have honest elections, and to equality.

In last week’s committee hearing, bill sponsor MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beteinu) said:

This bill has undergone a long journey, going back to the 20th Knesset. There is agreement from wall to wall in this chamber that discrimination against women and the exclusion of women is invalid, regardless of the background. We as a society want to make a moral statement that harm against women is unacceptable in any segment of society, in any place, and in any way. The punishment will not be imprisonment, but rather fines. There is a moral, public and political statement here that women must not be harmed simply because we are women.

At a certain point, the conversation took a turn towards discussing Women of the Wall.

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism):

When someone objects to the prayer service of Women of the Wall, is it because they are women or because of what they are doing?

MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) added:

Let’s say I hang up a sign in an area that is totally ultra-Orthodox, nonviolently and without any threats, and the sign says that in the study hall of my Hasidic sect, men please enter here, and women please enter there. I didn’t ask for a permit from anyone, I did something that wasn’t approved by law. If so, that is criminal harassment according to this proposal.

At the end of the discussion, MK Malinovsky stated:

You are taking this discussion somewhere else. The story of Women of the Wall does not interest me at all, I’m not there. I see the phenomena of daily life on the street. I don’t go to the Western Wall, and I don’t know what happens there. I also don’t mean to go into a private study hall and make a provocation. I am talking about the street, the public sphere, signage, unpleasant things that happen to a woman because she is a woman and someone goes and harasses her in the street. The legal system must address this issue. There is no aspect to this that seeks to oppose religion. The only goal is to protect women.