Israel has tried a variety of methods to disperse its periodic protests by Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews: rows of policemen, officers on horseback, even a foul-smelling spray known as “Skunk.”
But during last weekend’s protests in Jerusalem over the Eurovision Song Contest being held on the Sabbath, a handful of Israeli women tried a more peaceful, more innovative, and theoretically more effective tactic: they took their shirts off.
Under “modesty” rules, Haredi men are forbidden to view erotic images of women other than their wives, and in some cases to view women at all. Israeli advertising posters are periodically defaced if they contain images of women, and some Haredi newspapers won’t run any photos of women. In fact, how to cover the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton was a source of great consternation among Haredi journalists.
Standoff – women in bras vs ultra-orthodox Jewish protesters against #Eurovision being held on their sabbath pic.twitter.com/V3ppK5DynY
— Tom Bateman (@tombateman) May 18, 2019
Because of Israel’s closely divided parliamentary system, Haredi political parties have an outsized voice in national affairs, which has emboldened many protests by very religious Jews over issues like service in the army (currently, young men in their communities do not serve and study Jewish texts instead) and the hosting of gay pride events.
Those protests have often blocked traffic and otherwise hurt commerce in Israeli cities, so the Israeli police have tried various methods to disperse them – including methods Israel also uses on Palestinian protesters.
Last weekend, during the Eurovision Contest, Haredi men in Jerusalem blocked traffic on a main street, shouting “Shabbes!” (the Yiddish word for Sabbath) at passing vehicles and bystanders. (RELATED: Israeli Veteran: ‘America Has The Best Gun Laws In The World, Appreciate It!’)
Four women who were counter-protesting removed their shirts, exposing their bras. It’s unclear how effective their tactic was, since the only video of the incident available on the Internet shows Haredi men running away from mounted police and toward the shirtless women.
However, if seeing unclad women becomes a known part of the protesting experience, the men’s rabbis (and wives?) are unlikely to tolerate further participation.
Despite the protests, Saturday’s Eurovision contest proceeded as scheduled, with the top prize going to the Netherlands for Duncan Laurence’s song “Arcade.”