- Women dressed as “maids” are at the forefront of mass protests against the Netanyahu government.
- Netanyahu’s plans to reduce the power of the Israeli Supreme Court.
- This is the 11th week of protests against the proposals.
A phalanx of women in red dresses and white caps – a depiction of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ – has become one of the defining and most powerful images of weeks of mass protests against Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government in Israel.
Protests in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities oppose Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to reduce the power of Israel’s Supreme Court in favor of elected officials.
Critics fear it will degrade Israel’s liberal democracy. Moran Zer Katzenstein, the founder of women’s rights group Bonot Alternativa which is leading the Handmaid’s Day protest, told AP, “This exhibit is a representation of the things we fear.”
—Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) March 17, 2023
She said, “Women are going to be the first to get hurt.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” has an ominous message of extreme patriarchy enslaving women and their bodies to produce children for a male elite, and it resonates with Israeli protesters.
Ultra-Orthodox parties, key elements of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, ban women’s participation. Other members of Netanyahu’s coalition have discussed the segregation of men and women in the military and hold anti-LBGTQ positions, AP charged.
“We don’t think we’ll wake up and realize we’re living in Gilead, but we fear it’s something that’s evolving. First here and then there and another and another,” Zer Katzenstein told AP.
“Our message is that we are drawing a red line, and we won’t let that happen, not even a little bit,” she said.
The powerful symbolism of the “Handmaiden” costume, popularized by the hit Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss, has been embraced by female protesters in Iran, the United States and Poland. But in Israel it has become the mainstay of protests that have taken thousands to the streets, and now, in its eleventh week, it shows no signs of slowing down.
About 1,000 women wore the characteristic red dresses and bonnets at a recent rally in Tel Aviv, AP reported, and the eye-catching ‘handmaidens’ even caught the attention of Atwood, who retweeted posts about the women .
People around the world are also voicing their concerns about Netanyahu’s plans.
Sheila Katz, CEO of the Washington DC-based National Council of Jewish Women, said the proposed reforms “threaten the dignity, equity and justice of everyone in the region”.
Katz added, “Israel’s Supreme Court plays a major role in upholding the basic rights of all Israelis and has a long history of blocking legislation that is contrary to Israel’s basic laws.”
Senator Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed concern that Netanyahu “dangerously places his own narrow political and legal interests — and those of the troubling extremists in his coalition — ahead of the interests and needs at long term of Israeli democracy,” according to the Israeli news site Haaretz.
President Biden has also expressed the importance of defending democracy, telling the New York Times: “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both based on strong institutions, checks and balances, on an independent judiciary”.