In an item at the Associated Press datelined early Monday morning not labeled as "analysis" or otherwise characterized as the reporter's point of view, the wire service's Amy Teibel went on the attack against current developments in Israeli politics and society in extraordinarily harsh terms, to the point where her report could easily have been mistaken for a leftist's political stump speech.
Teibel's screed began with the headline ("A battle is raging for the soul of Israeli society"), and went downhill from there (what are in my view deliberately loaded words are in bold):
On billboards, on buses and in the halls of parliament, a battle is raging over the nature of Israel, raising ever more urgent questions over its future as a democracy.
Radicalized religious activists and conservative lawmakers see themselves as bulwarks against assaults on faith and country by rivals within multifaceted Israel and by the outside world.
Although the nationalist right includes many nonreligious Israelis and the religious camp is not exclusively nationalist, the overlap is strong, they are considered natural political allies, and they share a simmering historic grievance: a sense that Israel's cosmopolitan elites - the courts, the media, even the army - should be brought into line with a more conservative populace.
Arrayed against them are secular Israelis, many of them liberal and European-descended - the group that established the country, long dominated its affairs, and has seen its majority dwindle.
They are horrified at the assault on what they consider a critical yet brittle achievement: Surrounded by dictatorships and theocracies, Israel is a place of pugnacious reporters and freewheeling human rights groups, a land where gay pride marches are commonplace and where it goes without saying that the Supreme Court can be led by a woman and include a prominent Arab.
Conservative Israelis are trying to force change as never before.
Towards the end of her 1,350-word writeup, Teibel gives readers the impression that the country is descending into a virtual Jewish version of sharia law, at least pertaining to the treatment of women:
In strictly religious neighborhoods, some women have taken to cloaking themselves head to toe, like fundamentalist women in the Islamic world, to comply with rabbis' increasingly impassioned exhortations to dress modestly. The Jerusalem municipality has stepped in on another matter, saying it will not allow several ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to carry out a plan to have segregated polling stations for community council elections.
... Last month, the Supreme Court stopped one Jerusalem neighborhood from designating heavily traveled areas off-limits to women during a holiday crush. The court also stepped in late last year to halt gender segregation on more than 80 bus lines.
While segregation has diminished sharply since that ruling, it was largely men in front and women in the back one recent morning on a line that runs through ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclaves in Jerusalem. The driver said that when women dare sit up front, male passengers sometimes still try to browbeat them into moving to the back.
My reaction to this was mixed, as on the one hand I know that there are Jewish enclaves in New York City visited often by Democratic politicians which practice a certain degree of gender segregation that as far as I can tell is voluntary, to which pols trolling for votes virtually never object, and which has even included actual political speeches. On the other hand, if everything Teibel describes in her final six paragraphs (some of which was not excerpted) is accurate, there may be cause for concern about where things are really heading in Israel.
So I consulted with someone in a position to render an informed comment, namely Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs, whom I thank for her prompt response. That response, in her inimitable and admirably frank style, read in part as follows:
There is no compulsion in Jewish law. It's voluntary. Sharia is all compulsion. They are trying to equate the two. They are trying to paint all religions (or religious law) as oppressive and brutal as the sharia. There are no honor killings, clitorectomies, dehumanization, etc., of women (in Jewish law). Women are not chattel under Jewish law.
Great points as usual, Pamela.
Teibel did not get a comment from anyone concerning the gender segregation issue, which means that yours truly has done more she did in this regard.
Perhaps more disturbing than Teibel's intensely slanted tirade is the URL of her report at the AP's main site, which reads as follows:
The article's web address indicates that the wire service may be planning to do more reports on "the remaking of Israel." Gosh, this wouldn't have anything to do with the devolution of the so-called Arab Spring and the clear increase in anti-Israel hostility in the affected states and the related need to create "justifications" for attempts to marginalize the Jewish state, would it? (/sarc)
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.