It appears that graphic artists and public relations professionals in Jerusalem have recently developed a fetish for shoes. A glance at billboards and posters pasted around the city shows that Jerusalem is draped in shoes.
In Jerusalem, a shoe is not just a shoe, says Uri Ayalon, a Conservative rabbi who promotes religious pluralism, and who recently established an uncensored Facebook group that protests against the elimination of women from public spaces.
Shoe images, he says, are used to obscure the fact that in Jerusalem women are rarely pictured on public posters and billboards.
It takes time to grasp that something is missing in public spaces in Israel's capital. But once you notice it, it's hard to fathom how you didn't pay attention to this fact earlier. It appears that in recent years, and in an escalated fashion in the past
several months, women have disappeared from advertisements in Jerusalem.
This fact does not refer to scantily clad models, who were purged from signs and posters in the city several years ago as a result of campaigns waged by the ultra-Orthodox - struggles that sometimes included the burning and destruction of billboards and
bus stops. The purging of women from publicly displayed pictures in Jerusalem applies to images of females in regular dress and daily situations. Pictures of women in family settings and advertisements of women using face cream or being connected to food
or fashion products are hard to come by in this city.
Jerusalem municipality officials adamantly deny that there has been a change in the city's advertising policy, and they refer to several advertising campaigns that featured images of women. However, figures in the city's public relations industry admit
that women have been entirely removed from public billboards and pictorial advertisements.
It seems that this trend is being led by private advertisers who prefer to conceal women rather than deal with ultra-Orthodox anger. For instance, a hamburger company that promoted its product around the country with a picture of happy family members
choose in Jerusalem to show only images of its burgers. In Jerusalem, a campaign for regional radio stations dropped the image of radio presenter Ofira Asayag, which was featured everywhere else in the country.
This becomes a process of self-censorship, explains Rabbi Ayalon. You decide in advance not to use a photograph of a female dancer, so that nobody sprays it. You decide not to confront anything, and that's the position adopted by the
Six women met in Jerusalem to be photographed so their pictures can be hung from balconies
throughout the city to counteract what appears to be the attempt to keep women out of advertising in the capital.
A group that calls itself Yerushalmim ( Jerusalemites ) and focuses on issues of pluralism is behind the initiative.
The idea is to return the city space to its natural state and turn the appearance of women into something boring, that no one notices, one of the originators of the idea, Rabbi Uri Ayalon, a Conservative rabbi who created a Facebook page
called uncensored, through which the women signed up to be photographed.
The six volunteers met at the Jerusalem home of activist Shira Katz-Winkler. One of them, Idit Karni, says: A minority can't take over the city and cause women and girls to disappear. I have four daughters, and I don't intend to leave them a
city that has lost its sanity.
Another of the volunteers, Tzafira Stern-Asal who is the director of a dance school, says she has had personal experience with the difficulty of putting women in advertising in the capital when trying to advertise her school. I finally had to
limit myself to a shoe or some sort of fluttering material, which certainly reduces the attraction of the ad, she says.
In the first phase of the project, 100 posters of the women will be hung throughout the city, focusing on the downtown area.
The women believe the problem lies with advertisers, who self-censor out of fear of the ultra-Orthodox. Now we'll see the skies won't fall. I don't say it will pass quietly, but people will breathe easier when they see pictures of women
returning to billboards.
Jerusalem's secular mayor, Nir Barkat, has pitted himself against the city's swelling ranks of
ultra-orthodox extremists by demanding that local police enable women to reclaim their position in the public domain.
Over recent months, women's faces have disappeared from billboards across the city amid mounting pressure applied by the powerful ultra-orthodox lobby, who find the female image offensive.
Advertisers that do not fall in line with the standards of the extreme ultra-orthodox have frequently fallen victim to direct action. Across Jerusalem, female figures have been blacked out of billboards with spray-paint, or vandalised with
graffiti branding the image illegal . Other posters are simply torn down.
On Sunday, Barkat wrote a letter to district police commander Niso Shaham in which he said: We must make sure that those who want to advertise [with] women's images in the city can do so without fear of vandalism and defacement of billboards or
buses showing women.
The battle over Jerusalem's billboards is only one manifestation of an alarming trend towards gender segregation across Israel driven by the religious right. Activist Hila Benyovich-Hoffman was spurred to take action by reports that nine male
cadets in the Israeli Defence Force had walked out of an army event in September because women were singing. Four were expelled from an officer's training course for refusing to apologise. Benyovich-Hoffman said:
This was the final straw for me, that these cadets could humiliate female soldiers because some rabbi has told them that a woman's voice is indecent. The army used to be a source of pride because women served alongside men as equals. But more and
more, rabbis are influencing army behaviour.
She organised a series of demonstrations last Friday in which hundreds of women gathered for singalongs in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheva to demand their right to a public presence. She says much more needs to be done.
Two actresses have censored from advertisements for the Israeli movie The Dealers , displayed on billboards in Jerusalem.
Other ads for the film, a comedy about friends from Jerusalem looking for a way to make money, feature four men and two women.
As a result of the exclusion, some protesters have threatened to boycott the movie. Critical comments posted on the Facebook page of film distributor United King Films included:
The movie is boycotted until you fix the advertising in Jerusalem
If you continue to exclude women, we will exclude ourselves from your movies!
United King said the company that operates the billboards had asked for the actresses to be removed from the ad:
Unfortunately, the censorship of women's images from billboards is the result of a decision we consider unacceptable, and is not in our interest. In the past two years we have unsuccessfully struggled against this unacceptable
Previously the Jerusalem International Film Festival, held earlier this month, had its posters defaced all around the city after choosing a woman on a bicycle as its symbol. Many in Israel's secular majority, in Jerusalem and elsewhere, have reacted
indignantly. In a Haaretz article a PR person is quoted as saying:
It is not surprising that the middle class and young secular people are abandoning Jerusalem. What remains of this charming city that should have been a magnificent city is injustice and dreariness and the repression of women.
Posters for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, featuring the film's female lead Jennifer Lawrence in the role of
Katniss Everdeen, have been hung prominently throughout Israel.
Except for in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak There, the posters only display the fiery crow that forms the background of the poster. The foreground of Jennifer Lawrence with a bow and arrow has been excluded.
The movie's Israeli PR firm acknowledged that the poster had been sanitized for the ultra-Orthodox audience. A spokesman said:
We discovered that public posters with the image of a female are often torn down in Jerusalem, while Bnei Brak does not allow posters with female images.
The Bnei Brak municipality said in a statement that a municipal regulation prevents the hanging of posters of women that might incite the feelings of the city's residents.
The Jerusalem municipality said that it does not limit the appearance of female images in posters, but Liron Suissa, VP marketing of the company responsible for the posters, Nur Star Media, said:
Unfortunately we are subject to unofficial coercion that forces us to be more careful, Suissa said. We have had endless vandalization, and clients prefer not to take the chance. We allow everything, but we recommend hanging another visual when necessary.
The decision is the client's.