TEL AVIV, Israel—It’s become an ominous fixture of the mass anti-government protests roiling Israel: a coil of women in crimson robes and white caps, walking heads bowed and hands clasped. They are dressed as characters from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the eponymous TV series.
The women, growing in numbers as the demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies intensify, say they are protesting to ward off what they believe will be a dark future if the government follows through on its plan to overhaul the judiciary. “This display is a representation of the things that we fear,” said Moran Zer Katzenstein, founder of the women’s rights advocacy group Bonot Alternativa, or “building an alternative,” which is behind the Handmaid’s protest.
“Women are going to be the first to be harmed” under the overhaul, she added.
In a move that has sparked widespread opposition, Netanyahu’s government is pushing to weaken the Supreme Court and limit the independence of the judiciary, steps they say will restore power to elected legislators and make the courts less interventionist. Critics say the move upends Israel’s system of checks and balances and pushes it toward autocracy.
The overhaul has sent tens of thousands of people into the streets in protest each week. Unmissable in the crowd are the women in red robes, turning otherwise usual protest scenes into an otherworldly sight. The government, Israel’s most right-wing ever, is overwhelmingly male. Only nine out of 64 members of Netanyahu’s coalition are women. Ultra-Orthodox parties, which are key components of the coalition, deny inclusion to women members entirely.
With the crisis in Israel showing no sign of abating, the women in red have become a mainstay at protests around the country and their numbers are growing. About 1,000 women wore the robes at a recent Tel Aviv rally. AP
Image credits: AP/Ohad Zwigenberg