Female Jewish leaders sue Haredi news site for blurring their faces

Lawsuit filed by Israel Religious Action Center claims photo caused plaintiffs ‘harm and humiliation’; website denies wrongdoing: ‘This is our way of life’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

A picture of a meeting between President Isaac Herzog and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem distributed by the President's Residence in December 2021, with faces of females blurred, as it appeared in Behadrei Haredim according to a lawsuit. (Courtesy: IRAC)
A picture of a meeting between President Isaac Herzog and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem distributed by the President's Residence in December 2021, with faces of females blurred, as it appeared in Behadrei Haredim according to a lawsuit. (Courtesy: IRAC)

A branch of the Reform Movement in Israel is suing a popular ultra-Orthodox news website in Jerusalem over its policy of blurring the faces of women.

The Israel Religious Action Center said Wednesday it was seeking NIS 345,000 ($100,000) in damages from the Behadrei Haredim website for a picture it ran last year of female leaders of Jewish movements meeting with President Isaac Herzog, in which the faces of the women were digitally smudged.

The suit was filed Monday on behalf of Anna Kislanski, CEO of the Reform Movement in Israel; IRAC director Orly Erez-Likhovski; Rakefet Ginsburg, who leads the Conservative Movement in Israel; Yochi Rappeport, executive director of Women of the Wall; and WoW deputy leader Tammy Gottlieb.

According to a statement issued by IRAC, the picture caused the plaintiffs “harm and humiliation” by blurring their faces “just because they are women.” The statement noted that the men’s faces were left unblurred.

“Behadrei Haredim must pay a significant price for this illegal exclusion, compensating my colleagues for the humiliation caused,” IRAC executive director Anat Hoffman said in a statement.

“It is unacceptable to blur the faces of women in Israel in 2022,” she said in a statement. “Just as we fought other instances of the exclusion of women, we will not stay silent about this blatant and harmful exclusion and will do everything in our power to prevent similar discrimination in the future.”

IRAC Executive Director and then-chairwoman of the Women of the Wall group Anat Hoffman wears a prayer shawl as she prays along other members of ‘WoW’ at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem on July 8, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The lawsuit is the first ever filed in Israel against a website “for the humiliating policies of erasing women,” according to IRAC.

The photo in question was published on Behadrei Haredim in December 2021. Initially, IRAC demanded that Behadrei Haredim publish the original photo and pay NIS 50,000 in compensation for each woman appearing in the photo. When the website refused, the group began preparing the lawsuit.

Responding to IRAC’s initial demands, Behadrei Haredim said in December that it did not consider its actions harmful to women and urged the plaintiffs to respect its readers’ way of life.

“We have no intention of hurting women. Like the majority of Haredi journalism and media, we too don’t publish photos of women, as part of our readers’ insistence on maintaining the dignity of women,” the website said in a statement.

“As part of our coverage of the issue of the Western Wall, we reported a visit to the President’s Residence, which included blurring out the photos that included women, and we don’t see that as being harmful in any way,” it said.

“As those responsible for our readers’ requirements, we respect their wishes and don’t exclude women. Those who tout the sacred value of ‘live and let live’ should understand that this is Haredi media, this is our way of life,” the statement added.

Many ultra-Orthodox publications refrain from publishing photos of women or blur their faces.

Last year, IRAC marked a victory in its campaign against erasing women in the public sphere in Israel, when the Jerusalem District Court ruled in its favor and ordered the Jerusalem Municipality to investigate incidents of Haredi Jews vandalizing billboards depicting women’s faces throughout the city.

The group filed the lawsuit after religious vigilantes defaced the portrait of a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor that was put up outside Jerusalem City Hall.

“Lawbreakers cannot be allowed to dictate the public space,” the court ruled at the time.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this post.

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