It was a violation of the law allegedly repeated often during the Sounds of the Old City music festival in Jerusalem last week. The government-funded festival was meant to showcase musicians, but the festival’s director is accused of forcing women musicians to get off stage, and of trying to block the performances of bands that include women muscians, all to appease haredi activists who threatened to disrupt the festival if it did not give in to their demands.
Women Musicians Forced Off Stage In Old City By Haredi Threats
Shmarya Rosenberg • Failedmessiah.com
It was a violation of the law allegedly repeated often during the Sounds of the Old City music festival in Jerusalem last week.
The government-funded festival was meant to showcase musicians, but the festival’s director is accused of forcing women musicians to get off stage, and of trying to block the performances of bands that include women muscians, all to appease haredi activists who threatened to disrupt the festival if it did not give in to their demands.
And, as has repeatedly happened with other similar incidents inn the past, Jerusalem’s secular mayor, Nir Barkat, and his administration turned what appears to be an intentionally blind eye, allowing the haredim to get their way. Israel’s national government, newly sworn in last week, is dependent on arrangements – many of them meant to skirt or violate the law – made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the previous government to appease his haredi allies.
When last week’s incidents took place, it was apparently those backroom illegal deals that guided the government’s reactions, not the law.
At the festival, The Diwan Project, which has a woman singer, was almost forced off stage by the festival’s management – which had hired them to perform in the first place, fully aware that their lead singer is female.
"We started the show and already felt something strange.…A representative of the festival production walked over to the singer and asked her to get off the stage. I didn’t know what it was all about, but I would not allow it and we went on with the performance. We later realized that haredim were threatening that if the singer does not leave the stage, they will disrupt all other events in the festival,” Gil Ron Shama of the Diwan Project told Ynet.
The Diwan Project was scheduled to perform four times during the festival’s four-day run.
But after the band left the stage after their first disputed performance, singer Liat Tzion was “asked” by festival management not to return. She reportedly didn’t.
Marsh Dondurma, a 15-piece band, has two women musicians. A few days before the band’s scheduled performance, festival representatives asked that the women not go on stage. The festival’s management offed to replace the two women with male musicians so the band could perform and be paid.
"Several days before the show, people with the production demanded that we perform without the women.…I was told that the issue was a problem since the event was taking place in the Old City's Jewish Quarter. I was stunned. I said that the request was absurd and that I will not back down. After two days of nonstop phone calls I was told that the performance was to go on as scheduled,” Marsh Dondurma’s Dotan Yogev reportedly said.
When the band took the stage, Yogev tried to tell the audience about the festival’s ban on women performers. But as he began to tell them what happened, festival organizers allegedly turned off his microphone.
Jerusalem City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria, who has led the fight in Jerusalem to protect women’s rights and freedom of – and from – religion – was outraged when she found out what festival organizers had done, apparently with the full blessing of Barkat, who has been accused of appeasing haredim at almost every turn.
"This is insufferable – that in the Old City of Jerusalem, to which the entire Jewish people long, this immoral, un-Jewish and illegal act of excluding women will occur. The mayor of Jerusalem must ensure that no sign of exclusion appears in cultural events and fight haredi lobbyists who promote such exclusion,” Azaria – who is Modern Orthodox – said.
Barkat’s city administration denied it had forewarning about exclusion of women, and denied it was a part of the decisions made to do it.
"Many women performed in the festival, singing in many places in the Old City. Those specific incidents were an error in judgment made by the festival's artistic manager, without the municipality's knowledge, and are not indicative of the festival as a whole,” a city spokesperson told Ynet.
However, it appears that the vast majority of places women performed were outside the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, known as The Rova.
The Rova – which was almost entirely secular after its liberation from Jordan in 1967, quickly gained a large Zionist Orthodox population, while haredi yeshivas slowly gained footholds there.
By the late 1980s, The Rova was a predominately Zionist Orthodox neighborhood with a significant minority population of haredim, and tensions slowly began to rise. The haredi population of The Rova continued to grow exponentially, and haredi attacks on tourists, Christian clergy and on secular events like the music festival grew exponentially, as well. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, these acts of extremism were rarely prosecuted. All this discouraged more moderate Modern Orthodox and Zionist Orthodox Jews from living in The Rova and encouraged even more haredi extemism.