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January 1, 2012 12:48 pm

Beit Shemesh & The International Media

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Photo: Fadil Emansour.

Following a number of awful incidents carried out by ultra-Orthodox extremists, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the only democracy in the Middle East, opened a cabinet meeting by saying: “Israel is a Western liberal democracy, and as such its public space is open and safe for all, men and women. There is no place in [Israel] for discrimination. The police will continue to arrest all those who spit, raise their hands, and harass.” Similarly, on Israel Army Radio, Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz said, “The spirit of Jewish law does not allow discrimination or violation of women in any circumstance and on any grounds.”

It’s been made quite clear by the political and religious leadership of Israel that nearly all Jewish people stand against this tiny handful of sick individuals. Even within the ultra-Orthodox community, the perpetrators are shunned and reviled. From the sickening activities of a handful of ultra-Orthodox extremists in Beit Shemesh to screaming “Nazis” and “whores” at Jewish women walking, boarding buses and anywhere else – its simply awful, repulsive behavior.

Owning a crisis PR firm, I am upset at the news coverage surrounding these so-called “religious” disputes. The media targets Israel in a critical manner on these issues, just as it covers alleged Israeli human rights violations against the Arabs and these very limited actions of extremists. At the same time, it neglects to cover the constant violations and day-to-day treatment women face  in almost every Arab country. Is Israel’s blessing as the sole democracy in the Middle East a reason for this warped media coverage? Or is it a continued double standard and anti-Semitic approach to the Jewish people and state of Israel?

Let’s take a look at some of the headlines: “Religious limits on women roil Israel“ (Washington Post), “Taking stand for Jewish women took far too long“ (USA TODAY), and “Extremist Jews prevent women from voting in Israel” (Associated Press).  None of these headlines are remotely accurate. Israel is incensed at the actions of a handful of crazies; nearly the whole country is standing up for the women, and it’s doubtful that even one woman was prevented from voting. Furthermore, the media fails to mention that the incident occurred just moments after the mayor of Jerusalem spoke out against gender discrimination.

One would agree that the religious conflict in Israel merits media coverage – but surely not the mountains of press coverage versus the lack of media on similar issues amidst our Arab brethren bordering Israel. The fundamental difference between the conflicts is immense: in Israel, it’s “extremists” against the government; in Arab countries, it’s the policy and the law against the women.

Why does the media neglect to cover the tribulations of Saudi women who are required to have a guardian and need that guardian’s permission to make any decisions in their own lives? These include:  marriage and divorce, travel on their own under the age of 45, education, even opening a bank account. No women are permitted to drive or to vote. I haven’t seen an AP headline that focused on the fact that Saudi women can’t vote, but I did see an AP headline on Israel and women voters. Even the recent protests by hundreds of women in Egypt – in which 13 people were killed and Egyptian soldiers beat and stripped women protesters — didn’t receive the same amount of media coverage as Israel has. Naturally, those of us who follow the issue know that the soldiers and police in Israel are protecting those being harassed by extremists, not beating and stripping them.

It’s nearly impossible to find an article in mainstream Western media about the [new] Libyan National Transitional Council chief’s pledge to uphold Islamic law and ease polygamy prohibitions. Yet, The Washington Post has no qualms about running headlines on “religious limits on women in Israel.” Of course, these latest articles neglect to mention the laws that restrict women’s rights in almost all Arab countries. Perhaps there are no headlines, because in most Arab countries, the Sharia (Islamic Law) rules the land, and women are accorded a role inferior to that of men.

The bottom line is that while the activities and behaviors of these extremists in Israel is awful, in nearly every part of the Arab world, women would be thrilled to be treated as the extremists in Beit Shemesh are treating the female inhabitants. Yelling and spitting upon the Arab women would be a dream compared to current conditions they face. It’s incumbent upon the Jewish people to do all we can to challenge the media for their continued double standard on all issues surrounding Jews and Israel.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, 1 of the 25 largest US PR firms, and author of the best selling PR book “For Immediate Release” which may be purchased here.

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