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Israel’s Parliament Draws a Line on Short Hemlines


Israeli Parliament Dress Code Spurs Protest

Dozens of Israeli Knesset members and their assistants demonstrated outside the Parliament building on Wednesday after female employees were denied entry for wearing skirts deemed too short.

Photo by Associated Press. Watch in Times Video »

JERUSALEM — How short is a short skirt and who gets to decide?

These were the questions vexing members of the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, on Wednesday as dozens of female employees arrived in above-the-knee attire to protest what they said was the Knesset guards’ sudden eagerness to enforce a longstanding dress code.

Many of the aides also wore thick tights or black leggings, though it was unclear if that was a nod to modesty or because of the bad weather.

The years-old code, which a Knesset spokesman said was recently “refreshed,” calls for dignified dress that becomes the place and bans items like shorts, ripped trousers, skimpy tops, T-shirts with political slogans, short skirts and dresses, and flip-flops.

While many Knesset members and their aides said they supported the need for a dress code, they questioned the guards’ role as the arbiters of appropriate skirt length, comparing them to the modesty police in conservative religious societies. One female employee cheekily said in a radio interview that she was considering looking into jobs in Iran’s Parliament.

The dispute was amplified by the deeper cultural and religious wars roiling Israeli society, with women often on the front line.

An 8-year-old schoolgirl set off a national debate about religious extremism in 2011 after ultra-Orthodox men spit on her and cursed her because her modest dress did not conform to their more rigorous rules.

More recently, at the height of this summer’s debate in Europe over the head-to-toe swimwear known as the burkini, an Israeli singer ran into trouble for wearing a bikini top at a beachside concert. And some rabbis and retired generals have objected to the proposed integration of the army’s tank crews, with one critic worrying that after nine months in a coed tank, “a little tank soldier would be born.”

The skirt-length skirmish burst into public conversation after the left-leaning Haaretz reported on the plight of Shaked Hasson, who was pictured in a slightly crumpled, above-the-knee blue dress and was held up by Knesset guards for nearly an hour on Sunday until her boss, Merav Michaeli of the center-left Zionist Union, intervened.

“Yes, yes, no less than five guards stood and visually measured up Shaked’s legs and decided that her attire did not allow her to enter the Knesset to do her job,” Ms. Michaeli, a leading feminist lawmaker, wrote in a Facebook post.

Describing Ms. Hasson’s experience as “humiliating,” Ms. Michaeli added, “Respectful attire yes, but no to modesty patrols.”

Other female workers subsequently reported having been sent home to change clothes, saying they had frequently been allowed into work in the same garments before.

Manuel Trajtenberg, another legislator from the Zionist Union, registered his objection on Wednesday after his parliamentary assistant was asked to remove her jacket for inspection. Mr. Trajtenberg took off his own shirt, revealing an underwear vest, and shouted: “You should all come in burqas, covered up completely,” referring to the face-concealing full Islamic veil and robe.

The guards were prepared for Wednesday’s protest. Some women seeking entry in shortish skirts reported being examined scrupulously, with some female guards tugging at their hemlines.

Tamar Ish Shalom, an anchorwoman on Israel’s Channel 10 news, posted pictures on Twitter of the British prime minister, Theresa May, in clothing that revealed her knees and some thigh. She wrote that she hoped Ms. May was not planning a visit to the Knesset any time soon, or “It could cause a diplomatic incident.”

The Knesset spokesman, Yotam Yakir, described Wednesday’s protest as a “provocation.”

“I am sure other parliaments in the world have a much stricter code,” Mr. Yakir said by telephone. “Here, jackets are not obligatory. We just don’t allow real minis, torn clothes, things like that. It is very elementary. It is not about gender.”

Israel is a casually dressed country, where shorts, T-shirts and sandals are common at weddings and funerals. But in September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked a minister, Haim Katz, out of a cabinet meeting for showing up in a striped polo shirt.

The Knesset banned jeans in 2007, but later reversed course.

Ms. Hasson, the aide whose case led to the protest, told the news site Ynet that she had been told hemlines could be no more than 5 centimeters above the knee, something Mr. Yakir said was incorrect.

“There are no numbers or centimeters specified in the code,” he said. “It just says no short skirts.”

Source: NYT > World

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