Displays of Women Vandalized in Israel; Hardline Jewish Groups Suspected

Peggy Parnass's picture displayed across the walls of Jerusalem at the gateway to the city hall has been defaced again. Parnass's pictures were plastered around the city of Jerusalem, along with the photographs of other Holocaust survivors for the Lonka Project. The Lonka Project's exhibition started last April 2021; since then, her image has been vandalized five times since June.

For more than two years, starting 2019, the Lonka Project's 250 plus artists have been working on photographing and commemorating the last remaining Holocaust survivors. The goal was to publish a book and to put up art exhibitions across Israel. But the project's goals were marred by a sentiment older than the memories of the Holocaust.

Jim Hollander, a curator of the Lonka Project, understands that the vandalism on Parnass's image is not anti-semitism. "This is anti-feminist," he declared. The city has cleaned off the paint covering Parnass's smile and gazing eyes, but another attack occurs every time they do so.

For many Israelies, the attack conveys a more profound pain knowing that the perpetrators are from within. It is not just the images of Parnass, photos of women and young girls; athletes and musicians are being vandalized; defaced. For the past 20 years, advertisements and other imagery with women on them have been repeatedly torn down or painted over by ultra-Orthodox extremists.

In 2015, German chancellor Angela Merkel was edited out of a photo during the Paris march for modesty. Merkel was standing in the middle, between France's President Francois Hollande and the president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas. The edited photo was posted by Hamevaser, an ultra-Orthodox newspaper in Israel.

The anti-feminist pattern is becoming more uncomfortable. Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Jerusalem's deputy-mayor, knows that it is a coordinated operation by a small number of fringe members of an ultra-orthodox community. Hassan-Nahoum said that the radicals are trying to "erase women from the public space, which belongs to all of us." "This is not Kabul; this is Jerusalem," she added.

Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, thinks that the attacks stem from the increasing ultra-orthodox Jewish population. Gilad Malach, who leads the ultra-orthodox program of the Israel Democracy Institute, warns that these ultra-orthodox radicals "know that the world outside is functioning in a different way."

The ultra-orthodox only makes up 12.6% of the 9.3 million Israelies. But they hold an increasing political influence. The city of Jerusalem has had campaigns to fix vandalized images but has not stopped them. "The Jerusalem municipality has and will continue to condemn any damage to public images and deal with the problem if it appears on the spot."

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