By Janine Chow:
Today in the Sterling Law Building, Professor Shlomit Yanisky-Ravid directed a seminar on “Law and Society in Israel: Contemporary Issues.” An eminent Israeli Professor of Law and a fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project, she drew on past research and experience to discuss multiple forms of discrimination in Israeli society today. The experience took the format of an especially dynamic class on law centered on relevant court cases.
Yanisky-Ravid couched her discussion on ideals of equality in the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence, which includes a promise to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” This idealism about equality pursues in the Israeli legal courts, she said, where verdicts tend to support the arguments of victims of prejudice. Laws forbidding workplace discrimination against sex and religion have expanded to cover sexual orientation and what the professor curiously called “freedom of pregnancy.”
But, Yanisky-Ravid warned, such cultural relativism is hardly prevalent outside of legal statues. Discrimination remains a deep issue in most every walk of Israeli society, from “hidden discrimination” against those who did not serve in the IDF (read: Arabs, immigrants, and disabled persons) to open discrimination against employees who refuse to work on the day of Sabbath.
The greater part of the seminar centered on the rights of the women and the rights of the ultra-Orthodox. Professor Yanisky-Ravid introduced the story of the woman who refused to give up her seat to an ultra-Orthodox man on a public bus, a story which inflamed the media and branded her as the “Israeli Rosa Parks.” One student at the table commented that “it’s tough for American Jews to listen” to this case, given the long history of human rights movements in the United States. “We’ve dealt with this,” he said.
Though the courts ultimately resolved that women be allowed to sit wherever they choose, according to the latest Knesset reports, most still continue to sit at the back of busses so as to avoid harassment. Another student pointed out that the rights of women and the rights of the ultra-Orthodox cannot really coexist. To this, Professor Yanisky-Ravid objected that despite the right to religious freedom, no society would sanction blood revenge today. Gender discrimination “for me is like blood revenge,” she said—simply another part of Orthodox culture that should not be permissible.
The prospect of immutable discrimination is not so bleak, however. With each successive case, Israeli courts continue to rule in favor of the minority. Professor Yanisky-Ravid herself continues to work with the Israel Women’s Network and the International Labor Organization, and has even won a scholarship for research in the field of equality for women. If she and the rest of Israel’s women continue their work, equality might be inevitable.
Janine Chow ’15 is in Jonathan Edwards college. Contact her at email@example.com.