Ultra-Orthodox news website apologizes, will pay fine for blurring faces of women

Behadrei Haredim outlet reaches deal with 5 women after Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center sues over coverage of a meeting between Jewish leaders and President Herzog

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

From left, Tamar Gottlieb, Yochi Rappeport, Anna Kislanski, Rakefet Ginsberg, and Orly Erez-Likhovski, pose for a photograph in court on December 4, 2022. (Courtesy/Women of the Wall)
From left, Tamar Gottlieb, Yochi Rappeport, Anna Kislanski, Rakefet Ginsberg, and Orly Erez-Likhovski, pose for a photograph in court on December 4, 2022. (Courtesy/Women of the Wall)

A popular ultra-Orthodox news outlet on Sunday agreed to apologize and pay compensation after blurring the faces of a number of female Reform and Conservative leaders last year, according to the organization that brought a lawsuit against the site.

Last December, President Isaac Herzog met with representatives from the Reform and Conservative movements, as well as from the Women of the Wall activist group, to discuss the future of the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

In its report on the meeting, the Behadrei Haredim news site included a photograph of the meeting but blurred out the faces of the four female participants — Rakefet Ginsberg, CEO of Israel’s Masorti movement; Anna Kislanski, CEO of the Reform movement in Israel; Orly Erez-Likhovski, director of the Israel Religious Action Center; Yochi Rappeport, chairperson of Women of the Wall; and Tamar Gottlieb, vice-chairperson Women of the Wall.

This was in line with the website’s general policy of refraining from publishing photographs of all women, on the grounds that doing so goes against Jewish laws of modesty, though this is disputed by many strictly Orthodox rabbis.

These five women filed a civil suit against the news site earlier this year through the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), claiming discrimination, negligence, defamation and violating their privacy.

The case was sent to mediation, and on Sunday, Behadrei Haredim agreed to issue a formal apology and to pay compensation to the five women of an undisclosed sum — under the deal, the amount was kept secret. IRAC had initially demanded the site pay NIS 50,000 ($15,000) for publishing the blurred photograph.

“The website apologizes for blurring the faces of the women in a photograph published on December 1, 2021, and December 7, 2021, and wishes to express its regret for the damage caused to the women by publishing it,” the website wrote in a statement that was carried on the site on Sunday.

The five women involved issued a statement on Sunday hailing the decision, but also noting their concern over women’s rights in Israel in general.

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)

“Particularly at this time, when women’s rights are under assault, we see great importance in this agreement, which makes it clear that the exclusion of women is illegal and that those who do it must pay,” they wrote.

“Unfortunately, there are many places in Israel, particularly at the Western Wall, where women are excluded and discriminated against. The liberal Jewish movements will continue to stand at the forefront of the fight for the rights of women and against their exclusion in the public sphere,” they said.

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

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.

Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.

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