How To Promote Stability
The growing religious fundamentalism in Israel is actually Jewish, not Muslim
Commentators and various other "sources" are warning about the rise to power of extreme Islamist rule in Egypt. But they are ignoring the popular and secular profile of the demonstrations there, as well as the secular option similar to that in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that Israel wishes to maintain stability in the region. His contribution to stability? The Ministerial Committee for Legislation debates a bill that would ban the wearing in public of the burka, the garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the face and body. It's a proposal that the Palestinians angrily termed "a racist campaign against Palestinian identity in Israel" last summer.
The bill is portrayed as promoting women's liberation and is based on the belief that the burka degrades women and their rights. While there is no disputing this, the truth is there is no fundamental difference between the regular head coverings worn by Muslim and Jewish women. The disparity is only a matter of degree.
Dr. Susan Weiss wrote an article indicating that head coverings among Jewish women are, from the outset, a symbol of subjugation and ownership by the husband, relating to female sexuality. True, the head coverings for Jewish females are only meant for married women; among unmarried women, immodestly exposed hair is not an issue. It is only when that exposed head becomes the private property of a particular man that it must be concealed from others.
A few interpreters of Jewish religious law have ruled that men cover their heads as a sign of their subordination to God - but because the subordination to God is only partial, ("The wise man's eyes are in his head," Ecclesiastes says ), his head covering too is only partial. But the woman covers her head as a sign of total subordination, and therefore her head must be fully covered.
Many religious women who would be enraged by the above description cover their heads for a variety of reasons that are not connected to religious faith. Head covering is also a symbol of status, of communal connection. Sometimes it serves as a kind of shield, precisely because of what it indicates.
Muslim women, too, wear head coverings for reasons such as their connection to a specific population, out of "dignity" or as a defense. Capitalist culture, which traffics in the female body, should not be surprised when Jewish and Muslim women feel protected behind veils and head coverings, even if it is a total illusion. There are of course many other women who have no right to decide, but still no one would dream of legislating a ban on Jewish women covering their heads.
The most relevant truth, however, is that in Israel very few women wear veils; it is far from being a phenomenon that must be contained, which makes the proposed law unnecessary for all intents and purposes - beyond the provocation and ferment it creates. Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently said he would not suggest the passage of such bills considering "our reality." If the government of Israel wishes to advance the status and liberation of Arab women, it would do well to enable them to enter the workforce and earn money. Arab women study; they are more educated today than ever before, proving that the government's contention that tradition prevents these women from working and studying is a lie.
The proposed burka legislation was inspired by the law in France, but its passage there was preceded by long and widespread public debate. Also, that law in France comes as an extension of a law barring any kind of head covering in educational institutions, all of which belong to the same school system - the system of the secular French republic. In Israel, which is not at all secular, every stream of thought has its own school system, and head coverings are accepted and desirable, especially when worn by Jews.
The growing religious fundamentalism in Israel is actually Jewish, not Muslim. While the Arab population here becomes more secular, the religious Jewish public is getting stronger. Instead of fearing Muslims in power in Egypt and Israel, it is worth setting our sights on Jewish fundamentalism and the latest law that it is promoting.