In early December, a campaign was launched to guarantee a spot for Charedi women on the electoral lists of the Charedi United Torah Judaism and Shas parties in the Knesset. The “No Representation, No Vote” campaign, led by Charedi female activists, calls for the leadership of Charedi parties to reserve at least one spot on party lists for a woman. If their demands are not met, campaign members are calling on Charedi women to abstain from voting for Charedi parties.
Within one week of the campaign launch, the group had obtained 3,000 likes on Facebook. According to the Jerusalem Post, women in the Charedi community are generally encouraged to vote in order to garner more support for Charedi parties, but they are not allowed to hold positions of communal leadership for modesty reasons, as well as to maintain social norms.
According to members of the “No Representation, No Vote” campaign, current Charedi party leadership in the Knesset is not addressing women’s concerns, such as employment conditions, which are worse for Charedi women than for their secular counterparts. This is a particularly pressing issue because the employment rates for Charedi women are close to double the amount for Charedi men, as many Charedi women support their families almost single-handedly.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Charedi MKs failed to attend Knesset hearings on issues of women’s health and employment. One of the activists, Esti Shushan, is quoted as saying: “We need to bring our voice to the Knesset because women are simply not being heard.”
The group has also begun a fundraising campaign online, through which they hope to raise NIS 30,000, although as of December they had only managed to raise NIS 1,600. A post on the Facebook group reads, “Elections are coming and it doesn’t matter if you’re a Shas voter, an Aguda voter, non-hassidic, Sephardi, or hassidic, you have no representation in the haredi parties, you are not counted.”
The group acknowledges that it will be a challenge to reach their target audience be-cause of the widespread lack of Internet and social media access in the Charedi community. Therefore, part of the campaign will be the distribution and posting of flyers in Charedi neighborhoods, as well as through advertisements in Charedi publications, email, and Whatsapp.
Since the campaign was launched, Rabbi Mordechai Blau, a prominent member of the United Torah Judaism party, has made certain implied threats against these activists and any woman who supports the campaign by not voting for Charedi parties. The Jerusalem Post quotes one of his statements: “Any woman who comes close to a party which is not under the guidance of the great rabbis will leave [her marriage] without her ketuba [without the money owed to her in case of divorce], and it will be forbidden to learn in her educational institutions, or to purchase any product from her, and it will be a religious obligation to remove all her children from all institutions.”
He was also quoted as saying that any Charedi woman who ran for a non-Charedi party “will be dealt with accordingly and will pay dearly for it.” An investigation has been launched into these threats, which could “constitute a criminal offense in accordance with Clause 122 of the Knesset Elections Law,” says Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran. He also says, “An attempt to influence, through threats, a citizen from voting according to his own conscience (and even to run in elections) is forbidden in the most severe terms and this practice must be rejected in every manner as long as [such threats] exist.” However, according to Haaretz, Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, a politician who “represents the more progressive edge of the ultra-Orthodox spectrum,” offered a different take on the “No Representation, No Vote” campaign.
“It is time that Haredi women were represented in Haredi parties,” he said.
He also stated that even if these parties don’t allow female representation on their own tickets, women “shouldn’t be prevented from running on other tickets, and shouldn’t be boycotted or ostracized.”
He is further quoted as calling Rabbi Blau’s remarks “stupid” and unrepresentative of the opinion of most Charedim. Finally, he promised to try to “advance the entrance of Haredi women into the Knesset so they will have appropriate representation.” Shoshana Halpern (’15), President of the Women’s Studies Society and editor-in-chief of Kol Hamevaser, weighed in on the “No Representation, No Vote” campaign.
“It is incredibly brave of these women to stand up against the societal norm of their Charedi community,” she said. Sarah Robinson (’15), who has been involved with the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alli-ance (JOFA) and one day hopes to be a Yoetzet Halacha, says that the Charedi communities in Israel “remove women from the public sphere in an attempt to maintain the ‘sanctity’ of the community.” She says that depriving Charedi women the opportunity to hold a leadership role is an “injustice” and a “shame.”
“It’s not only unfortunate; I think it’s immoral,” she added.
As for the women who are campaigning for representation in the Charedi parties, Robinson says, “When we consider the fact that Charedi women are starting to make a political movement, it is actually that much more radical, because they’re coming from a context, a society, and a culture that is preventing them from engaging in anything of the sort.”
In regard to the threats from Rabbi Blau, Robinson says that she believes that they are coming “from a place of fear. I’m not surprised that someone would react in this way, but I can’t say that I’m not disturbed.”
Robinson expressed her gratitude that Stern has clubs like TAC and SCWSC with all-female leadership, which she says gives more female students the opportunity to hold leadership positions and can prepare them for future leadership roles.