The unwatchables

Israeli actresses face Orthodox protests.

by Jennie Kermode

israel's cultural battle over the rights of women came to a head this week when posters for popular new film The Dealers were altered at the last minute to remove images of its female stars. Yuval Scharf and Michal Gavrielov play key roles in the comedy about football-mad friends, but ultra-Orthodox Jews say that men looking at pictures of women is unacceptable.

The incident follows escalating tensions that have seen other film posters and adverts torn down, whilst there have been reports of assaults on girls going to school. Sex segregation is an established norm in many areas of Israeli society but, as mainstream public attitudes have begun to relax, ultra-Orthodox groups have sought to police it much more strictly.

Traditionally, it has not been considered acceptable for Israeli women to perform in front of men in any kind of entertainment. This has led to an unusual cinematic phenomenon whereby some films are made by women for female audiences only. In some cases they are even withheld from the DVD market to ensure they don't fall into the hands of men.

Now that society is changing, there have been threats of a boycott against The Dealers until its original advertising is restored. A recent demonstration in Jerusalem demanded an end to restrictions on the visibility of women, but the challenge reformists face is difficult because there are in fact no legal factors contributing to the status quo. Instead, an effective ban is enforced by the threat of boycotts or vandalism against companies that refuse to cooperate with it.

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