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Hillary Clinton & Modesty


Hillary Clinton, bless her, chose to berate Israel at a closed conference recently for its attitudes towards women. She specifically mentioned segregated seating on buses serving Charedi neighborhoods and recent decisions limiting the role of women in the armed forces in combat. I’m not sure if her objection to recent moves that permit male soldiers to opt out of mixed concerts was aimed at the soldiers or the performers.

I don’t disagree with her. But given all the serious issues that are matters of life and death, the ongoing failure of talks, the non-Charedi settler violence, for example, what the heck was she thinking? Well I can tell you, she was simply reflecting a form of liberal fundamentalism that is every bit as dangerous as religious fundamentalism. I object to any fundamentalism of any kind when it tries to interfere with freedom of choice. But when fundamentalism itself is an expression of freedom of choice, I object even more to people so ideologically hidebound they cannot see the beam in their eye for the mote in someone else’s.

I don’t mind sitting next anyone, regardless of sex, so long as he or she doesn’t smell! I do not approve of sex segregated buses. I believe state legislation should forbid any kind of segregation on state property or in state contracts. If you want something different, pay for it. Don’t expect me to subsidize it. But all free states do allow all kinds of private restrictions, limitations, and choices, social and religious. In that respect why is Israel any different than the USA?

Why is Clinton preaching at Israel when there are far worse abuses of freedom in her own country? The USA, of all places, should value allowing different communities to express themselves. From its constitution the United States allows individual states to be different. Some states have the “death penalty”, others do not, some refuse to allow women the freedom of choice to have abortions. Some control the availability of contraceptives. Others limit the use of alcohol. Israel is in most respects a much freer society than many parts of the USA.

Two of Israel’s major parties are headed by women. Dorit Beinisch is the president of the Supreme Court. Women serve in the army, they have equal civil rights, they can walk around 90% of the country as décolleté as they fancy, and they are allowed to drive. Of course Israeli society, secular as well as religious, is far from ideal, and male chauvinist pigs of all stripes and creeds are not yet extinct. But tell me, pray, where it is better?

What’s her agenda?

Is it because a recent raft of right-wing legislation is a serious assault on freedom? I agree it is. Restricting funds to charitable organizations because you do not approve of their politics is indeed a scandal. Making verbal attacks on the state a crime if they come from Arabs, but not from Jews, is indeed unacceptable. I guess if you get into bed with yahoos, as Netanyahu has, there is price to pay. But let us remember this includes quasi-fascist secular Russian voters too. The disease at the core of Israeli society is the corruption of politics. But it is the failure of the opposition to win over public opinion and the absence of the political will to work together to clean up the mess that is responsible. As indeed this could all equally be said of the USA. So why frame the attack in terms of women on buses?

Is this another attempt to curry favor with the Brotherhood by painting religiously conservative Jews with the same brush? The Obama delusion in thinking that appeasing other ideologies will make them more sympathetic to yours? Is this to deflect attention away from the fears of Arab states becoming Shariah states by suggesting Israel is going the same way? When some countries she visits stone women to death, refuse to allow them to vote, won’t let them drive or have an education or take control of their own lives, she has to pick on Israel over a few buses that only serve Charedi areas?

Perhaps it is something else. Hillary is the archetypical liberated, modern woman who has had to fight hard for her success and who has identified strongly with a liberal agenda. She has recently trumpeted her intention to spend large sums promoting gay and lesbian rights around the world (well, good luck with THAT in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Iran). But her commitment to liberal causes blinds her to other areas of free choice that she cannot identify with, and that is the huge failure of the left wing agenda. It is as biased and closed-minded in its way as the fundamentalists are in theirs.

A doctrinaire liberal position is where one can object to women choosing to cover themselves up in the name of religion, or preferring to live in a sex-segregated community, but refuse to see that women walking semi-naked into a sensitive social context, or flaunting sexuality in inappreciative areas is equally problematic. You will ban head covering in schools but allow girls to walk in with micro-skirts and boob tubes. You will frown on taking time off for prayer but not for a quick snog in the playground. You will assume that ALL women who cover their hair, be they Muslims or Jews, have been compelled by aggressive males. Some may indeed, but to imply they all are is typical doctrinaire blindness.

It is this insensitivity to religious feeling that led her and her team to totally misread Egyptian society and think that funding liberal values would help change the nature of Egyptian society to be in the image of the USA, when clearly that is precisely what most voters in Egypt do NOT want. The Middle East is not Coastal America. It was a failure of both Israel and the Palestinians at the infamous Oslo talks to ignore their own religious communities instead of getting them involved.

Whether we like it or not religion plays an increasing role in the affairs of most countries nowadays. It is the zeitgeist. The more you swing one way the more the other swings back. Clinton should, we should be supporting the middle ground and consensus, instead of jabbing at the extremes.

Happy Chanukah, everyone. Let us celebrate light rather than the sword!

30 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton & Modesty

  1. Religion and politics are terrible bedfellows. There's always trouble when they are mixed up. The Arab Spring is not a leap forward – it is a backwards somersault as far as I can see and the more theocratic it becomes, the more dangerous.

    Hillary Clinton might do better to keep her husband's trousers and the rest of America in place rather than interfere with Israel's daftness on certain elements of public transport.

    A very happy Chanukah, Jeremy and let's celebrate the light, as you suggest.

  2. > Women serve in the army, they have
    > equal civil rights, they can walk
    > around 90% of the country as décolleté
    > as they fancy, and they are allowed to
    > drive.


  3. Adam:
    Whats the issue? There is divorce in Israel. You object to religious interference? Then say so and also say so to Catholic and Muslim countries.

  4. Adam:

    OK I know your point now and I have to say you are right. But this applies to both sides. We know that its where you open your file (tik) that counts. Women go to the secular courts because they believe they will be favored there. Men conversely go to the Rabbinate. In both cases, as in any court system there are good decisions and poor ones and yes on balance if it were my daughter (RL) I would advise her to go secular.

    However as you may know throughout Europe Muslims as well as Jews can go for arbitration without getting to court and many many people prefer this because civil courts tend to decide against religious parents. An aggrieved partner can still appeal to civil law to overturn a perceived anti feminist judgment (I agree however the pressure in religious communities often forces women to capitulate). That is why I would like to see a fairer system allround.

    But tell pray where you know of one. Every system I know of has its faults and I am not doctrinaire, only speak from my own experiences and those of my consulters.

    But it is interesting that in the USA many Orthodox Jews rely on Civil Courts in many States to oversee an equitable and fair resolution hence the American (and English) Prenup which I accept is eschewed by the Charedi world. Yes its a shame we can't sort out our own problems.


  5. Thanks for your kind welcome back, Jeremy. I've been travelling in an unsegregated fashion. It struck me that if I were part of the Israeli government, I would halt the bus service to Charedim unless they stopped their nonsense. Then, if women chose to sit separately from men they could but there would be no enforcement available to men of that persuasion. That would also leave an opportunity for Mrs. Clinton to upbraid the Islamists rather than the Jews.

  6. PNAs do not address the fundamental
    asymmetry between the male and female parties to a marriage. They fail to
    create an even balance in cases where a
    spouse really does disappear, or what
    follows after unfaithfulness, or where a
    spouse is incapacitated.

    Outside Israel one has choice. One can
    buy into the system. In Israel one
    can't easily opt out.

  7. Leila:
    The Supreme Court has indeed declared segregated buses illegal. The issue now is the that specific bus companies are either falling into line or opting out.

  8. But it's not just a matter of coercing
    the uncoopperative. The experience of
    having an incapacitated or missing spouse
    is very for a husband or wife.

  9. Jeremy,

    Is there another country, in addition to Israel, that its citizens leave in order to marry somewhere else because they have no faith in the matrimonial law of their own country? I'm thinking of the Israelis who go to Cyprus to marry.

    I'm glad you'd advise a daughter to avoid the rabbinical courts in favour of the secular ones. What would you advise a son? To head straight to the rabbis in order to benefit from their bias, (at the expense of justice) or to also go to a secular court and take his chances (like a man!)

    Don't you think, that it's in these little matters that one's real colours show?

  10. dk:

    First of all I would always argue that an agreed settlement to divorce is preferable and that certainly was the course I took in my life. Avoid all courts all of the time for your own sanity and ideally lawyers too.

    Now there are over 160 countries in the UN who only have religious marriage. This is the case in Israel. A Muslim, Christian , Jew can marry reach other but only in a religious ceremony of their choosing and this is common in other Muslim and in some Catholic countries. So dont think Israel is the only one, it is far from unique.

    Having said that I have always firmly believed that Israel should allow civil marriage and it should be a matter of personal choice and not in the exclusive hands of religious authorities. After all in the USA Jewish life is thriving without the State telling you how to get married.


  11. > Yes I completely agree. In an ideal
    > world all options should be available.

    Isn't the question about whether the
    traditional framework is equitable?
    If the only way for an individual
    to achieve a fair result is to leave
    or opt out, what does that say about
    the system?

  12. Adam:
    Yes I agree with you. The one issue I have with orthodox authority is that it has refused to deal with this particular issue and level the playing fields. Instead it relies on either non-Jewish or Secular authorities to solve the problem.

  13. jeremy – a lot of your argument is "whataboutery" – ok, so saudi is more sexist than israel and salafi men are [slightly, but not much] more sexist than haredim – but neither does that mean that the problems in israel aren't worth mentioning, particularly if you happen to be visiting. of course, *not* mentioning it in saudi or wherever is bad, m'kay and, of course, we can all point fingers at hypocrisy and double standards. nonetheless, her points still stand and need addressing.

  14. bananabrain:
    But of all the serious issues of corruption in the highest political ranks, of the unconscionable power of the Israeli arms dealers, the concentration of financial power in the hands of a few favoured familes, these threaten the democracy and stability of Israeli society far more than the issue of bus seats which anyway are part of a typically Charedi ploy to get money. No one of them is trying to expand the idea beyond lines directly linking Charedi communities. Nevertheless I dont like it at all. But for Hilary just to pick on that soft target instead of the real issues is typical and cowardly.

  15. You only have to watch Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat singing "Throw the Jew down the well" to the participating rednecks in the US, to know that Hillary Clinton has her own problems at home without the necessity of looking any further afield. Israel may not be perfect but, as you say, it's a lot better than many other countries.

  16. R. Rosen,

    Your reply to bananabrain misses the
    point by ignoring the structural flaws
    that disadvantage women in Israel.

  17. Jeremy,

    I agree with you that it is typical, and cowardly, to pick on bus seating arrangements, but it's also easier than delving into the ramifications of corruption which if investigated in too much depth, might reveal similar unsavoury relationships in America. It wouldn't be a vote winner to say that major pharmaceutical, armament, education and health companies are all in bed with each other and with their mates in government. Apart from the sheer gloomy misery of it all, it doesn't reflect well on the democratic process that's meant to safeguard us from the potential ills of capitalism. Picking on weird Jews and their weird ways, combined with support of women's issues, is a nice soft option. Not only that but Charedi bus companies don't usually have directorships available to politicians past their sell by dates. Don't you think Hilary might eventually stomach a directorship for GlaxoSmithKline or Lockheed Martin? I mean, what exactly can retired politicians do, drive buses?

  18. jeremy,

    ok, i accept that of all the things in israel she could have complained about, the bus system ought probably not to be first on the list. nonetheless, the same whataboutery applies to the other points you're making – yes, they're all important, but that doesn't mean this particular issue isn't worthy of comment. what was the conference about? if it was relevant to the theme, perhaps it made sense in the context. i have no particular liking for hillary clinton, but let's face it, israeli democracy can deal with most of the other threats to women's status – ask moshe katsav.

    as for hillary herself, i refer you to p.j. o'rourke's review of "it takes a village":

    "Mrs Clinton seems to possess the highly developed, finely attuned stupidity usually found in the upper reaches of academia. Hear her on the subject of nurseries and pre-schools: "From what experts tell us, there is a link between the cost and the quality of care." Then there is her introduction to the chapter titled "Kids Don't Come with Instructions":

    There I was, lying in my hospital bed, trying desperately to figure out how to breast feed… As I looked on in horror, Chelsea started to foam at the nose. I thought she was strangling or having convulsions. Frantically, I pushed every buzzer there was to push. A nurse appeared promptly. She assessed the situation calmly… Chelsea was taking in my milk, but because of the awkward way I held her, she was breathing it out of her nose!

    The woman was holding her baby upside down."

    'nuff said.



  19. bananabrain:

    While I agree with your line of reasoning with Jeremy, I think it is very important to point out that the kind of "stupidity" described in the breastfeeding anecdote is, sadly, not limited to the upper reaches of academia. Not by a long shot.

  20. Adam:
    No I do not ignore them at all. I just call for perspective. They are there indeed particularly in society with so much male chauvinism , that glorifies the fighting man, that excuses violence in the home because it knows battle trauma. Then it is overwhelmingly an oriental society with oriental paternalistic values etc etc but as a society it has also had a strong egalitarian streak born out of its Marxist roots. But as we know neither Marxism nor Maoism succeeded in eradicating Male Chauvinism. I still think it it does a better job than most.

  21. My Dearest Bananabrain:

    Fascinating information about Hilary, perhaps her blue stocking was over her head. But that precisely is my point , sometimes one is so focussed on the wider issues one gets distracted by minor ones that end up causing more trouble.

    Western Intellectual thinking is often as subjective and irrational as any other. I completely agree with the critiques of Israeli society, Orthodox society Uncle Tom Cobbley and All, and saying other societies are worse is never a response, just a debating point. But the issue is only what one picks on to criticize, where and when.

    Shavua Tov and Happy Chanukah

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