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December 16, 2011 7:26 am

Hillary Clinton & Modesty

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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Hillary Clinton. Photo: Marc Nozell.

Hillary Clinton, bless her, chose to berate Israel at a closed conference recently for its attitudes towards women. She specifically mentioned segregated seating on buses serving Charedi neighborhoods and recent decisions limiting the role of women in the armed forces in combat. I’m not sure if her objection to recent moves that permit male soldiers to opt out of mixed concerts was aimed at the soldiers or the performers.

I don’t disagree with her. But given all the serious issues that are matters of life and death, the ongoing failure of talks, the non-Charedi settler violence, for example, what the heck was she thinking? Well I can tell you, she was simply reflecting a form of liberal fundamentalism that is every bit as dangerous as religious fundamentalism. I object to any fundamentalism of any kind when it tries to interfere with freedom of choice. But when fundamentalism itself is an expression of freedom of choice, I object even more to people so ideologically hidebound they cannot see the beam in their eye for the mote in someone else’s.

I don’t mind sitting next to anyone, regardless of sex, so long as he or she doesn’t smell! I do not approve of sex segregated buses. I believe state legislation should forbid any kind of segregation on state property or in state contracts. If you want something different, pay for it. Don’t expect me to subsidize it. But all free states do allow all kinds of private restrictions, limitations, and choices, social and religious. In that respect why is Israel any different than the USA?

Why is Clinton preaching at Israel when there are far worse abuses of freedom in her own country? The USA, of all places, should value allowing different communities to express themselves. From its constitution the United States allows individual states to be different. Some states have the “death penalty”, others do not, some refuse to allow women the freedom of choice to have abortions. Some control the availability of contraceptives. Others limit the use of alcohol. Israel is in most respects a much freer society than many parts of the USA.

Two of Israel’s major parties are headed by women. Dorit Beinisch is the president of the Supreme Court. Women serve in the army, they have equal civil rights, they can walk around 90% of the country as décolleté as they fancy, and they are allowed to drive. Of course Israeli society, secular as well as religious, is far from ideal, and male chauvinist pigs of all stripes and creeds are not yet extinct. But tell me, pray, where it is better?

What’s her agenda?

Is it because a recent raft of right-wing legislation is a serious assault on freedom? I agree it is. Restricting funds to charitable organizations because you do not approve of their politics is indeed a scandal. Making verbal attacks on the state a crime if they come from Arabs, but not from Jews, is indeed unacceptable. I guess if you get into bed with yahoos, as Netanyahu has, there is price to pay. But let us remember this includes quasi-fascist secular Russian voters too. The disease at the core of Israeli society is the corruption of politics. But it is the failure of the opposition to win over public opinion and the absence of the political will to work together to clean up the mess that is responsible. As indeed this could all equally be said of the USA. So why frame the attack in terms of women on buses?

Is this another attempt to curry favor with the Brotherhood by painting religiously conservative Jews with the same brush? The Obama delusion in thinking that appeasing other ideologies will make them more sympathetic to yours? Is this to deflect attention away from the fears of Arab states becoming Shariah states by suggesting Israel is going the same way? When some countries she visits stone women to death, refuse to allow them to vote, won’t let them drive or have an education or take control of their own lives, she has to pick on Israel over a few buses that only serve Charedi areas?

Perhaps it is something else. Hillary is the archetypical liberated, modern woman who has had to fight hard for her success and who has identified strongly with a liberal agenda. She has recently trumpeted her intention to spend large sums promoting gay and lesbian rights around the world (well, good luck with that in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Iran). But her commitment to liberal causes blinds her to other areas of free choice that she cannot identify with, and that is the huge failure of the left wing agenda. It is as biased and closed-minded in its way as the fundamentalists are in theirs.

A doctrinaire liberal position is where one can object to women choosing to cover themselves up in the name of religion, or preferring to live in a sex-segregated community, but refuse to see that women walking semi-naked into a sensitive social context, or flaunting sexuality in unappreciative areas is equally problematic. You will ban head covering in schools but allow girls to walk in with micro-skirts and boob tubes. You will frown on taking time off for prayer but not for a quick snog in the playground. You will assume that all women who cover their hair, be they Muslims or Jews, have been compelled by aggressive males. Some may indeed, but to imply they all are is typical doctrinaire blindness.

It is this insensitivity to religious feeling that led her and her team to totally misread Egyptian society and think that funding liberal values would help change the nature of Egyptian society to be in the image of the USA, when clearly that is precisely what most voters in Egypt do NOT want. The Middle East is not Coastal America. It was a failure of both Israel and the Palestinians at the infamous Oslo talks to ignore their own religious communities instead of getting them involved.

Whether we like it or not religion plays an increasing role in the affairs of most countries nowadays. It is the zeitgeist. The more you swing one way the more the other swings back. Clinton should, we should be supporting the middle ground and consensus, instead of jabbing at the extremes.

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