Women of the Wall's Opposition Lifts from the Settler Playbook
Yesterday morning, Women of the Wall activist Peggy Cidor woke to the sound of two policemen knocking on her door. They’d been called in by one of her Jerusalem neighbors, who had already seen what she had not: the threatening graffiti scribbled on the wall downstairs. As Haaretz reported:
The words “Torah tag”—evoking the term “price tag” that is used to describe random acts of violence against Palestinians by radical settlers—was spray-painted on the door of Peggy Cidor, a resident of the Talpiyot neighborhood. On the walls of the stairwell leading up to her apartment were also spray-painted the following (in Hebrew): “Women of the Wall are wicked,” “Peggy, Your Time has Expired” and “Jerusalem is Holy.”
Cidor has served on the board of Women of the Wall, an organization fighting for the rights of women to pray as they see fit at the Western Wall, for the past 15 years. She said this was the first time anything “nasty” like this had happened to her.
Cidor filed a complaint with police. “The police warned me to be careful now,” she said. “I expect Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] leaders to condemn this act,” she said.
Cidor calls the incident “nasty,” but it’s downright disturbing. First, for all the obvious reasons: the fact that vandals are targeting a woman at her home; that fact they’re sullying the Torah by committing such crimes in its name; the fact that what we’re seeing here is Jewish terror directed against a fellow Jew.
But what’s even more disturbing is that these vandals are borrowing from the lexicon of terror employed by radical Israeli settlers against Palestinians—and the fact that that borrowing is no coincidence.
On the surface, settlers’ “price tag” attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank may seem to have little to do with ultra-Orthodox “Torah tag” attacks against liberal women in Jerusalem. But the two types of violence are actually inextricably linked. I say that not because we have any proof that yesterday’s vandals were themselves settlers or supporters of the settlement enterprise, or even because both yesterday’s vandalism and the settlement enterprise have their roots in a far-right interpretation of Jewish religious tradition. I say it simply because a society that discriminates against one minority will almost inevitably discriminate against another.
In Israel, as in other societies, discrimination against women is merely symptomatic of a broader system that fails to treat all of its minorities with the full dignity they deserve. Within that broader system, different forms of discrimination intersect, feed off of, and reinforce each other. So that when settlers commit “price tag” attacks against Palestinians, the problem is not just with the settlers, and when Haredim commit “Torah tag” attacks against liberal women, the problem is not just with the Haredim. Instead, the various types of violence in a state are always shaping, and being shaped by, one another. And to the extent that the Israeli government supports the settlers and empowers the ultra-Orthodox leaders who promote these bouts of violence, it is also implicated in the problem. It, too, plays a role in fostering a society of Israeli Jews who will discriminate against the “other” in its midst without the slightest moral compunction.
In this light, it’s not surprising that yesterday’s attack in Jerusalem bore some rhetorical resemblance to previous attacks in the West Bank. Nor is that resemblance altogether new when it comes to Women of the Wall.
May 10’s confrontation at the Western Wall saw thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews violently protesting the women’s group, throwing water bottles, chairs, garbage and, yes, rocks at them. In Israel, rock-throwing carries a special valence; it’s closely associated with Palestinian teenaged boys, who are frequently tried in military courts and slapped with prison sentences for engaging in that sometimes lethal activity. Given that association, watching ultra-Orthodox teenaged boys throw rocks at Jewish women was particularly jarring, and it prompted many to ask whether these teens would receive the same punishment as their Palestinian counterparts. But it should also prompt us to realize that, once again, it’s no coincidence that rock-throwing—an iconic feature of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank—is now showing up in violence directed against Women of the Wall.
Yes, of course, throwing rocks is also just an easy way of enacting violence, and it’s by no means exclusive to the occupation. Yet it is part of the symbolic vocabulary of that occupation—a popular term in its language of violence. And it’s that occupation that forms the broader system which, by discriminating against the Palestinian minority, reinforces the discrimination of Israeli Jews against minorities of their own.