DAILY MAIL ONLINE : 22nd September 2008
By Matthew Kalman
Tzipi Livni is poised to become Israel's next prime minister - but ultra-orthodox newspapers in the Jewish state are refusing to publish her picture for reasons of religious modesty.
Israeli feminists have described the ban as 'laughably ludicrous.'
The 50-year-old foreign minister and mother of two has been hailed by some of the world's press as a 'Mossad beauty' but she has image problems closer to home.
Only about 600,000 of Israel's 7 million population are haredi, or ultra-orthodox, but they pack a strong political punch and include key officials including cabinet ministers and the mayor of Jerusalem.
Their lifestyle is governed by a strict code with regulations for food, clothes, reading material and education which many critics say goes beyond the rules of orthodox Judaism.
Signs hanging at the entrance to the ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods in Jerusalem warn women to dress modestly in the area.
'Mossad beauty': Tzipi Livni
'No haredi paper will publish Livni's picture,' said Avraham Kroizer, a public relations adviser to the incoming premier.
'Graphic artists will blur the faces of women that do make their way into pictures that the papers want to use.
'They will also blur pictures of television sets or other items deemed improper to be seen by the wider haredi public.'
Naomi Ragen, author of The Sacrifice of Tamar and other popular novels set in the ultra-orthodox world, said the ban on Livni's photograph was 'over the top.'
'But I'm not surprised,' said Ms Ragen, who campaigns for equal rights for religious women.
'The haredi newspapers never publish pictures of women. Women don't exist. These papers are the equivalent of a boys' club.
'Even when they are advertising for the female market, they won't print a picture of a woman holding a baby.'
One ultra-orthodox paper also said it would not be using Livni's name Tzipi - short for 'Tziporah' which means 'bird.'
'We might write "Mrs. T. Livni" or just "Mrs. Livni," but the name. Tzipi is too familiar. It is not acceptable to address a woman using her first name, especially when she goes by a nickname,' said a senior editor at Hamodia, the oldest ultra-orthodox daily.
'For us the newspaper is an educational device that not only informs but also teaches people how to behave,' he said.
Livni would be Israel's first woman prime minister since Golda Meir resigned in 1974. The Hamodia editor admitted their policy back then was different.
'Golda was an institution. She was a respected figure with decades of political experience before she became prime minister. But in recent years there has been depreciation in the level of politicians,' he explained.
Ms Ragen said it was 'laughably ludicrous' not to print Livni's full name.
'Why this would be a problem is beyond the grasp of an orthodox woman like myself,' she said.
'There is nothing in Jewish law that would remotely be able to excuse this behaviour.'
'God has no problem putting the names of many women in the Bible. Why the ultra-orthodox world feel they have to improve upon God escapes me. They are getting more and more fanatical every day,' she said.
Professor Galia Golan of the Inter-Disciplinary Centre University and a founder of the Israel Women's network, said the ban was 'like something from the middle ages.'
'It's ridiculous and it's terrible,' said Prof Golan.
'They are more conservative than Islamic fundamentalists who have no problems seeing women in public life.'
'To make a difference between Livni and Golda Meir is even more insulting. It suggests they had no problem with Golda because she was so manly, whereas Livni has honesty, intelligence, integrity – a different kind of politician who represents the feminine side of politics.'