Israeli Haredi news site blurs female Labor leader in photo of incoming cabinet

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One of Israel’s leading ultra-Orthodox news outlets has blurred out  the face of Labor Party Chairwoman Merav Michaeli in a photo of the heads of the incoming government, fending off criticism by saying that “photographs of women may not be shown in our newspapers.”

The censored image, which ran on the Behadrei Haredim website on Monday, reflects a move away from publishing images of women in ultra-Orthodox media in recent years as well as the objectification of one of the country’s most prominent feminists.

Despite having done so in the past, most ultra-Orthodox publications no longer show images of women and when they do, they usually blur or otherwise obscure them.

In 2018, Mishpacha, the ultra-Orthodox community’s largest-circulation weekly magazine, blurred the faces of female Holocaust survivors in a photo of inmates being released from a concentration camp.

In a statement following a public backlash, the magazine said that it had abided by “the rules set by Torah sages,” according to which “photographs of women may not be shown in our newspapers. We try to do this respectfully, without blurring the images of women.”

Ami Magazine, another weekly, once ran an advertisement in which images of female dolls were removed.

Ad for Israeli health maintenance organization Clalit which reads ‘even in winter, Clalit is best for all Haredi families.’ No women are featured in the ad.Credit: HMO Clalit

In 2016, New York Yiddish newspaper Di Tzeitung apologized after it digitally manipulated a photograph of senior Obama administration figures in order to remove then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

Last December, the Ministry of Health ordered health maintenance organizations Maccabi and Meuhedet to cease publishing advertisements without women, ordering them to “include proportional representation of the sexes.”

In one advertisement from several years ago, the Clalit HMO showcased an illustration of two ultra-Orthodox men and four boys with the tagline that its services were “the best for the ultra-Orthodox family.” In another, featuring three bearded men, the HMO declared that it was the “best for women’s health.”

“I’ve waited a long time for the government to take this seriously, and I’m hoping that now that the government will have a record nine female ministers this will be one of their top priorities because the erasure and marginalization of women and girls has tremendous impact on women’s financial, religious and health rights and wellbeing,” Orthodox feminist activist Shoshana Keats Jaskol told Haaretz.

“We know that it affects women financially when they can’t advertise their businesses, can’t compete with men who can advertise with their faces. When women aren’t seen, their voices aren’t heard and their needs are not met. As someone who has studied this over the past decade, I can say that it has negative impacts across the community, boys and men included.”

A spokesperson for Michaeli, who has previously stated that she chose her trademark black outfits because she wanted “people to take note what I do, not to talk about what I wear,” declined to comment on the photo.