Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Monday, 10 November 2008

Jerusalem Diary: Monday 10 Nov

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


After the election over there, now there is an election over here. Tomorrow, Tuesday, Jerusalemites will vote for a mayor and a city council.

There is something rather quaint about the campaigning. The big money is not, as in America, spent on TV advertising. Rather, candidates buy space for posters on buses, bridges and buildings.

Those posters are, in turn, remarkably similar. No elliptical slogan or whizzbang graphic design. Instead a picture of the candidate, and a straightforward pitch: "Nir Barkat, for Mayor of the City".

But the poster battles are themselves intriguing.

Rachel Azaria is top of the list for the Wake Up Jerusalemites party. She had wanted to do the done thing and appear, along with two fellow party candidates, on a poster, on a bus, in Jerusalem. This is it, with Ms Azaria on the left.

Rachel Azaria and colleagues on their poster

Except that this poster never made it on to a bus.

"We went to the company that handles advertisements. They said - fine, just make sure there are no women. And we said - it's not just any women; it's women who are running for city council. It won't be provocative in any way. It'll be very serious. I'm married, I have children, I'm Orthodox (religiously observant).

"And they said - no, sorry, it's a rule we have. We don't allow women to appear on buses. The very radical ultra-Orthodox ruin buses if there are pictures of women on them."

The case is now being thrashed out in court. In the meantime, Ohad Gibli, a vice-president at the Canaan Advertising company, which handles ads for the bus company, told us: "Buses pass through religious neighbourhoods. Therefore for a bus campaign, not offending the public's feelings has to be taken into account."

Mr Gibli says that Wake Up Jerusalemites were offered a number of other options. These included a more modest ad, including a photo with parts of the woman's image - it is not clear which parts - covered up using graphic software.

Ms Azaria disputes this account. She says that none of the alternatives offered included a picture of a woman.

Indeed, the Israeli TV station, Channel 2, aired a taped phone conversation between Rachel Azaria and Avi Harel, another Canaan executive, in which he said to her: "You can't put a picture of a woman (on a bus), even with her head covered. Period. You can't."

I want to live in a liberal atmosphere. It's very hard at the moment to live in Jerusalem
Rachel Azaria
"You can't put a picture a of a female, not if she's an 80-year-old woman, not if she is an eight-year-old girl. What can you do?"

The bus company itself, Egged, told us that it had received no direct enquiries from either the candidates or the advertising agency, but would have had no problem with a picture of a public figure, as long as it was "positive and modest and inoffensive".

Rachel Azaria may be cross about the censoring of her ad. But it does, she says, rather prove the point of her party, whose wake-up call is aimed at fighting the increasing religiosity of the city.

"I don't want all cities in Israel to become ultra-Orthodox," she says. "I want to live in a liberal atmosphere. It's very hard at the moment to live in Jerusalem. We want to be able to stay here."

I raised the issue with the ultra-Orthodox candidate for mayor, Meir Porush, during an interview in his campaign headquarters. He said that the story was news to him. But he insisted that - as far as he was concerned - having a picture of a woman on a bus, as long as she was in modest attire, was no problem.


Meir Porush poster and South Park image
Some see a resemblance between the Porush posters and South Park

If the opinion polls are to be believed - and opinion polls in Israel often demand an Abrahamic depth of faith - then the battle for the mayorship is between the secular Mr Barkat and the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Mr Porush.

Mr Porush made his vision of municipal Israel very clear in a speech that was recorded and broadcast on a haredi radio station.

It was Rachel Azaria's dystopia.

Speaking in Yiddish, Meir Porush declared: "In 10 years there will be no more secular mayors, except in some puny village."

Meir Porush has avoided using a photograph of himself on his posters.

Instead, he has a drawing, which some irreverent Jerusalemites have compared to Santa Claus, or Papa Smurf, or even the rabbi on the scabrous US cartoon South Park.


Gaydamak poster
The rank outsiders, if the opinion polls are to be believed, are the left-wing candidate Dan Biron, and the multi-millionaire businessman and football club owner, Arkadi Gaydamak.

Mr Gaydamak came here a few years ago from Russia.

His Hebrew is, as even his spokesman acknowledges, basic.

Which is why, presumably, one of his posters was defaced on a bridge over Begin Boulevard.

Mr Gaydamak's slogan below proclaims: "Lo medaber, oseh!". "Don't speak, act!"

In the defaced poster, "oseh" had been crossed out and "ivrit" inserted. It now read: "Doesn't speak Hebrew."

Your comments:

The idea of not showing women pictures on buses is mainly (if not to say only) in the ultra-orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem. This is due to fear of the bus company that their buses would be damaged by the ultra-orthodox (who tend to use public transport more often than secular people). In the other 95% of Israel there is no problem of that sort (in the next election one of the two leading candidates is a woman).
Ran, Tel Aviv

As the biggest minority in the Jerusalem melting pot - because they appreciate the value of the city - the Haredei population should have the say on what goes. And women within the community do not have a problem with the idea that no female picture can be posted in a public forum. Women in the community have greater respect and less violence against them than in any other community in the country.
Al Harrow, New York USA

Doesn't anyone see a major inconsistency here? It's OK for people to complain about the suppression of women in Islam, because they're "forced" to wear a hijab, but in Israel the female image is not even allowed "on buses." Which is the greater misogyny? The fact that Israel can call itself democratic is absurd on a number of levels.
Akhter, London

Living in the USA, it is hard to believe that women in Israel would have such a problem posting a picture of themselves on a bus as a political candidate. I thought the Israelis were further ahead than the other middle eastern countries. Despite what countries think of the USA, it is still the greatest country to live in. I have the equal rights that men have to become whatever I want to be.
Pam LaPata, USA

Me as secular plan to vote for Mr Porush, I prefer him to the Russian candidate. I don't think that it is so bad for Jerusalem to have a religious mayor, after all it is a holy city.
Ohad Mizrachi, Jerusalem

Surely the Wake Up Jerusalemites party should realise that Jerusalem isn't just any city. In Judaism it is the Holy City, palace of the King of kings. This is why Jerusalem should be treated differently.
Aaron David, London UK

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