JERUSALEM (Sep. 10)
Dressed in pants and blouses, two dozen women attempted this week to enter a supermarket here that limits entry to “modestly dressed” female customers.
The store, which is owned by the giant Supersol supermarket chain, served all customers until April, when it decided to cater to shoppers from the fervently Orthodox community.
The demonstrators, representatives of a half-dozen organizations devoted to equality and women’s rights, were denied entrance Monday to the market on the grounds that they had not adhered to the store’s strict dress code of knee- length skirts and elbow-length shirts.
According to the store’s policy, women wearing shorts or miniskirts must don wraps if they want to enter the market, which is located in an industrial zone on the border of both religious and non-religious neighborhoods.
The demonstration came at a time of increased friction in Israel between religious and secular groups. Each side believes that the stakes involve nothing less than the future character of the Jewish state.
Stopped by a guard at the entrance, the protesters stood outside the store with placards that read “Don’t Sell Out Women’s Rights” and “How About the Women’s Status Quo?”
They also displayed a petition with hundreds of signatures from customers vowing to boycott Supersol stores until the dress-code is revoked.
Although most of the shoppers simply stared at the demonstrators in curiosity, one man shouted, “You are anti-Semites. You are not Jews.”
Another shopper, who declined to give her name, told the protesters, “If you were walking into a mosque, you would be required to take off your shoes. These are the rules here, and you have to abide by them.”
Ornan Yekutieli, head of the secularist Meretz faction in the Jerusalem City Council and the only male demonstrator, said, “It is unacceptable for the largest supermarket chain in Israel to bar segments of the public from a store in the middle of a busy industrial zone. It’s like being in Tehran.”
The store’s policy, Yekutieli said, “is another step away from the Western 20th century toward a fundamentalist society.”
Leslie Sachs, director of the Israel Women’s Network, admitted that the market “is a private place and can do what it wants.”
However, she added, “we are still trying to tackle the problem through a consumer law that says governmentally price-controlled items like bread, milk and cheese must be available to all.”
After the demonstration, which ended without incident, store manager Reuven Cohen said the supermarket’s policy was out of his hands.
“We are designed to give service to the ultra-religious community, but we are nevertheless happy to serve anyone who comes into the store,” he said.
“However, because of the sensitivity of women’s dress in the religious community, we simply request women to put on a skirt.”
Asked what would happen if a woman did not honor this request, Cohen at first hesitated.
Pressed for an answer, he replied, “She will be denied entry.”