Images of women are defaced by 'anti-feminist' vandals from Israel

Peggy Parnass can be seen gazing at Jerusalem's bustling Old City with her joyful glint.

Images of women are defaced by 'anti-feminist' vandals from Israel

Peggy Parnass can be seen gazing at Jerusalem's bustling Old City with her joyful glint. The twin images of Peggy Parnass, Holocaust survivor, and activist are posted across the street at City Hall's gateway. They look out at the ancient desert of holy monuments of Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam. Someone saw her image as a problem just outside of this center for spirituality. Since the April photos of Parnass were posted, vandals -- widely believed by ultra-Orthodox extremists - have spray-painted her eyes and mouth five times. Parnass smiled again after the graffiti was removed each time. The short-term solution was painful for many Israelis because it highlighted a familiar pattern. This is because the destruction is not coming from outside enemies but within Israel. Jim Hollander, curator of The Lonka Project's art installation in Safra Square, said that it is not anti-Semitic. "This is antifeminist." Despite its military might, modernity and technological know-how, Israel has been unable for decades to prevent images of women being defaced in public places. Religious extremists have repeatedly destroyed and torn down billboards featuring women, including young girls and musicians, in Jerusalem and other cities that have large ultra-Orthodox communities over the last 20 years. An ultra-Orthodox newspaper published a photograph of world leaders in Paris in 2015 that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This is a particularly troubling pattern. Fleur Hassan Nahoum, a Jerusalem deputy Mayor, said, "This isn't Kabul, it is Jerusalem." "This is a concerted effort by radicals to erase females from the public space which belongs to all of you." A double photo of Parnass, a 94-year old German citizen, is displayed on the outside wall of Jerusalem’s City Hall complex. Hollander stated that he chose the photo from dozens of others around the complex to hang it in the marquee spot because of its ability to project vitality, perseverance, and survival across one Israel's most iconic expanses. Because it is centrally located, thousands of people see it every day. It is believed that vandalism was perpetrated by a few fringe members of the ultra-Orthodox community. This group, which values modesty and has historically had a large influence on Israeli politics, is widely blamed for the vandalism. The photo was taken next to an ultra-Orthodox street, which is also a popular route to the Old City's Western Wall. This is the holiest Jewish prayer spot. The Israeli population of 9.3million is 12.6% ultra-Orthodox Jews. According to the Israel Democracy Institute (a Jerusalem think tank), this community is experiencing a faster growth rate than other Israeli Jews or Arabs. According to the institute, Jerusalem's Jewish community is overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox. One expert warned that there is a distinction between ultra-Orthodox Judaism, which is more pragmatic, and vandals who deface photos of women. Gilad Malach of the Israel Democracy Institute, which runs the ultra-Orthodox program, said, "In the mainstream they know that the outside world is functioning in an entirely different way." "And they know they have to cooperate with others in certain situations." Some women have started to criticize social media in the Orthodox mainstream. Kerry Bar-Cohn (48), an Orthodox chiropractor and performer, said that "the men aren’t in charge there." She started uploading YouTube videos of her singing children’s songs a few years back. Recenty, she attempted to publish an advertisement in a local circular that featured her photo, but was turned down. Bar-Cohn, the wife of a Rabbi and mother of four, said that it was discrimination. "I thought I wanted to sue them. But No. 1. Who has the time? No. 2. You don't want that person to be your friend." Advocates warn that eradicating women poses grave societal risks. Shoshanna Keats jaskoll, 46, said, "You don’t see women, and you don’t hear their needs. Their needs are not met." Keats Jaskoll launched the subscription-only Jewish Life Photo Bank recently. It is a collection of "positive" images of Orthodox women that she describes as a benefit to the Chochmat Nashim organisation. It is intended to sell images of women that can be understood by all people, not just an Orthodox audience. None of these efforts have stopped the steady stream of vandalism. The Israel Religious Action Center is a connected group to the liberal Reform movement. It has been following vandalism and other attacks against women's images over five years and has filed a court petition demanding that Jerusalem crack down. The municipality responded over time by stating that it is actively engaged in "massive effective and focused enforcement of the city's vandalism bylaws." However, it acknowledged difficulties in collecting evidence and prosecuting suspects. The Jerusalem municipality stated in a statement that it will continue to condemn damage to public images and deal with the problem if the need arises. The police claim that they investigate all complaints about vandalism or property damage and seek to identify those responsible. However, the Parnass case is not being investigated by them. Ori Narov, an attorney representing IRAC, stated that the state "supports this practice" by refusing to or being unable crack down. "We keep getting the impression that they keep making excuses," which could range from a lack of labor to more restrictions due to the coronavirus epidemic. Parnass photos were restored by the municipality and increased security around City Hall. Keren-Or Peled is Parnass’ niece and lives in Israel. She says Parnass was informed about the incident. After the photos had been cleaned a third times, Peled went to Jerusalem to take a photograph to send to her aunt. Peled arrived in Jerusalem to take a photo for her aunt. However, the photos were already defaced. Peled cleaned it herself. In an article in Haaretz, Peled wrote to her aunt: "They paint over you picture time and again because you're a woman." "A confident, beautiful, strong, and confident woman of 94 years."

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