After backlash, Bnei Brak drugstore stops covering up images of women on products

Shufersal’s Be pharmacy says exclusion of women against its policies; changes made at branch following dialogue with protesters and local rabbi

Products at Be Pharmacy with purple stickers covering the faces of women on May 17, 2023. (Twitter account of Stav Ella used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Products at Be Pharmacy with purple stickers covering the faces of women on May 17, 2023. (Twitter account of Stav Ella used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Women’s faces were once again visible on the shelves of a Bnei Brak branch of a major drugstore chain on Sunday after it faced outrage from women’s rights groups for concealing the faces on product packaging to comply with rigid ultra-Orthodox modesty customs.

Shufersal’s Be Pharm chain said in a statement on Sunday that discrimination against women was against its values. After dialogue with protesters and a local rabbi, “product adjustments were carried out at the Bnei Brak branch,” the company said.

A photo from the branch showing a shelf of hair products with purple stickers placed on the boxes to hide images of women’s faces sparked a firestorm last week, drawing calls for a boycott of the chain, as well as its parent company, the Shufersal supermarket chain.

The controversy marked the latest in a series of incidents in which companies received criticism for attempting to cater to the demands of Israel’s large and growing ultra-Orthodox population. Photos of women, sometimes including young girls, are generally kept out of newspapers or magazines, advertisements, product branding, or any other printed material aimed at the Haredi community.

The gender-equality activist group Bonot Alternativa, which participated in the protest against the firm, praised the decision “to return women to the Be Shufersal branch in Bnei Brak.”

“We will continue to struggle for the rights of women to be present in the entire public sphere and will fight the trend of harm and exclusion of women,” they said.

Members of the organization posted notices reading “Attention, they erase women here,” outside several Be locations around Israel last week in reaction to the discrimination.

Others took more strident action, such as Guy Ophir, a local lawyer who posted a video on Facebook of him confronting the branch manager inside the store and demanding that the stickers be removed because they are disrespectful to women.

The branch manager responded that he would only remove the stickers if given an order to do so and police were called to the scene to compel Ophir to leave.

Photographs of women on billboards or signs in Jerusalem and other cities are regularly defaced. In the capital, the Egged bus cooperative was sued several times for refusing to allow ads with pictures of women on buses that travel through ultra-Orthodox areas.

Earlier this month, a video surfaced of Haredi men denying entry to a woman trying to board a bus in Ashdod, claiming that it was a male-only line. Last week, an ad in a Beit Shemesh circular calling for small girls not to play where men can see them drew condemnation and charges that it was supporting pedophilia.

In Rosh Ha’ayin, a largely secular city, some have complained in recent days after the city began selling tickets to a children’s show, with the first 10 rows exclusively for men and women relegated to the back rows of the auditorium. Only 39 of the venue’s 600 seats were being sold for families that wish to sit together.

“When you start to normalize gender segregation in the public sphere and the erasure of women from any public appearance, you will end up with horrific incidents like the ones we’ve been seeing the last few days,” said Uri Keidar, executive director of Israel Hofsheet, an NGO that deals with religion and state issues.

Rosh Ha’ayin denied segregating the venue by gender and said the seating arrangements were organized so the family event was accessible to all.

Iddo Schejter contributed to this report.

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