One of the things I tell female travelers is that as a woman I feel very safe walking alone at night in Israel. I haven’t taken a formal survey, but I’m pretty confident that many women would agree with me.
But with the #MeToo campaign this week, I’m reminded that Israel isn’t safe for women at night because of its enlightened attitude toward women. #MeToo hit Israel and turned into גםאני# (gam ani or me too). It’s not really a surprise given the scandals we’ve had in the past few years, including a former president serving 5 years of a 7-year sentence for rape and other sex crimes against several women.
I’ve spent this week wondering how these two things can be true at the same time: I feel safe as a woman and yet there is sexism embedded in the culture and sexual harassment is a daily occurrence.
A bit of internet research revealed that indeed in Israel people generally feel safe walking alone, so the statistics bear out that people are generally safe from crime in the street.
Sexism exists even in the socialist utopia of equality on the kibbutz: When I volunteered on a kibbutz and worked in the banana fields, I could drive the tractor and climb the ladder with a machete to do the trimming, but I could not take the ladder out of the truck as it was considered “men’s work” and banana harvesting was extremely physically demanding, so only men did that. To be honest, I don’t imagine that any woman really wants to catch 100-kilo bunches of bananas on her back and deposit them on a flatbed truck. I certain didn’t. The ladder thing was silly though.
And I don’t wish to minimize the sexual harassment that goes on. Men do take advantage of women. There’s no reason or excuse. They do it simply because they feel that they can get away with it. From catcalling in the street to power-plays in the office, Israel is not immune. Worst of all are the cases of sexual assault and rape that occur in all kinds of situations – at the office, in the army, and even at home.
And yet, I still feel safe when I walk alone at night.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to reconcile these two facts about life in Israel for women. Was it cultural? Was it religious? Was it specifically Jerusalem? I thought about things that have happened to me in my years in Israel.
The only thing I can come up with is that both men and women benefit from the lower incidence of street crime. So feeling safe in the street as a woman is really just my view of a feeling of safety that applies to both men and women.
But in terms of sexism, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape, Israel has a long way to go. Thankfully #MeToo and גםאני# have shined a spotlight on this pervasive problem and finally made it headline news in Israel.
Screenshot: Source The translation of the main headline next to the women reads, “Yes, I too was raped.” Six stories from Israeli celebrities were printed in the paper, but the internet site of Yediot Ahronot has sixteen stories.