- Women dressed as “Handmaids” are at the forefront of mass protests against the Netanyahu government.
- Netanyahu’s plans to lessen the power of the Israeli supreme court.
- This is the 11th week of protests against the proposals.
A phalanx of women in red robes and white caps — a representation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian “A Handmaid’s Tale” — has become one of the defining and most potent images of the weeks of mass protests against Benyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government in Israel.
The protests in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities oppose Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to lessen the power of the Israeli Supreme Court in favor of elected officials.
Critics fear that this will degrade Israel’s liberal democracy. Moran Zer Katzenstein, the founder of the women’s rights advocacy group Bonot Alternativa leading the Handmaid’s protest, told AP, “This display is a representation of the things that we fear.”
—Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) March 17, 2023
She said, “Women are going to be the first to be harmed.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” has a disturbing message of extreme patriarchy enslaving women and their bodies to produce children for a male elite, and it resonates with the Israeli protesters.
Ultra-Orthodox parties, key elements in the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, ban female involvement. Other members of Netanyahu’s coalition have discussed segregating men and women in the military and have anti-LBGTQ stances, reproted AP.
“We don’t think that we’ll wake up and realize that we live in Gilead, but we fear that it will be something evolving. First here and then there and another one and another one,” Zer Katzenstein told AP.
“Our message is that we are drawing a red line, and we will not let this happen, not even a bit,” she said.
The potent symbolism of the “Handmaid” costume, popularized by the hit series on Hulu starring Elizabeth Moss, has been adopted by women protesters in Iran, the US, and Poland. But in Israel, it has become the mainstay of the protests that have brought thousands out onto the streets, and now in its eleventh week is showing no sign of abating.
About 1,000 women wore the distinctive red robes and bonnets at a recent Tel Aviv rally, reported AP, and the eye-catching “Handmaids” have even caught the attention of Atwood, who has retweeted posts about the women.
People around the world are also voicing concerns about Netanyahu’s plans.
Sheila Katz, the CEO of The National Council of Jewish Women, based in Washington DC, has said the proposed reforms “threaten the dignity, equity, and justice of everyone in the region.”
Katz added, “The Israeli Supreme Court plays a major role in upholding the fundamental rights of all Israelis and has a long history of blocking legislation that conflicts with the Basic Laws of Israel.”
Senator Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed concerns that Netanyahu is “dangerously putting his own narrow political and legal interests — and those of the troubling extremists in his coalition — ahead of the long-term interests and needs of Israel’s democracy,” according to Israeli news site Haaretz.
President Biden has also expressed the importance of upholding democracy, Telling the New York Times, “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, checks, and balances, on an independent judiciary.”