Thursday, October 19, 2006

Meanwhile, in Israel...

Funny how what something is considered par for the course in France, (big machers displaying their amatory prowess), in Israel it's manifested as sexual harassment. Right now, people are calling for the resignation of the Israeli President, who has been accused of raping two women.
The difference between the French politicos and the Israeli ones is simple and extremely meaningful: the French seduce and don't coerce. They do not intimidate anybody into having sex. As far as anyone can tell, their affairs are between two consenting adults. The Israelis, on the other hand, expect sex from women as a God-given right and they harass them. Two very different attitudes with two very different end results. Also, I think there is a big difference between being a Don Juan, and being a sexual bully.
While the mildly interesting article in the New York Times reports on the changing of societal attitudes about women and sex, it bases its entire explanation on the fact that Israel was conceived as a macho society to show the world that Jews are not weak. I think there are deeper reasons within the culture. Judaism has always been patriarchal and its attitudes towards women leave a lot to be desired. In traditional Judaism women are not allowed to study the Torah, to become rabbis, etc. They are basically supposed to have as many children as they can and stay home and take care of them. Of course, Israel is a modern democracy with Western attitudes. But when I lived there (1983-1986 a.c), there was no civil divorce in Israel. Jewish divorce is basically the woman asking the man for a divorce. He has to grant it, and if he doesn't then it's not easy for the woman to get it.
Coming from as macho a country as Mexico, I was appalled at the aggressiveness against women.
It was not generalized, but you could feel it on the street. In Mexico there is a lot of ogling and whispering dirty things and looking at female legs as if they had just arrived from outer space and nobody has seen them ever before, but it is usually kind of cowardly-shy, muttered under the breath. In Israel it is in your face and extremely aggressive.
One day we went to the beach in Tel Aviv. We were two women and my then boyfriend. Next to us were two women by themselves. They were Scandinavian, but they were not topless. They were sunbathing, minding their own business. These two guys appeared out of the blue and started harrassing them. They tried to make conversation without the slightest charm or respect. The women spoke to them but it was obvious they wanted to be left alone. These guys just sat down and pestered them, their bullying increasing by the minute. Not being Israelis, the girls did not know how to assert themselves and tell them to fuck off. I think at one point we told them to leave them alone. Since we were with a guy, they cursed us and screamed at us, but they didn't bother us further. Finally, the guys left, after throwing sand on the girls, I kid you not. The girls were on the verge of tears. We told them to come over and sit next to us. It seemed the difference between being able to have a nice day at the beach and a nightmare, was that you had to bring a man with you.
In the Middle East nobody is known for their progressive stance about women, not the Jews and not the Arabs, and that seeps into the culture. You can expect attitudes towards women to be quite horrible, and so, in my view, this is a big part of the picture, not just the fact that Jews are supposed to be tough.

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