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November 11, 2011

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 11, 2011 Islamists' success in Tunisian elections fuels optimism, anxiety Houda Trablesi for Maghrebia/Creative Commons Secular protesters march against Islamism in Tunis ahead of the Oct. 24 elections in Tunisia. The placard reads "Free to speak to say nothing." By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)--It was an orderly, peaceful By Naomi Zeveloff Forward NEW YORK--When a re- cent online expose revealed that women on a New York City-franchised bus were required to sit in the back, those who seemed to be least outraged were the women who actually ride the bus and live in the two heavily Ortho- dox Brooklyn neighborhoods it connects. "It never bothered me," said Rachel Freier, a lawyer from Borough Parkwho rides another segregated bus to i ' Manhattan from her sum-  :'mer home in the Orthodox enclaveiof Kiryas Joel. "It is not that I feel I am being segregated. As a woman, it is my own sphere of privacy." The revelation that gender segregation was enforced on a bus franchised by the city raised the hackles of New York officials, who soon pressured the private bus company holding the city franchise to reverse its policy. But to many who live in the haredi Orthodox world, the practice of sex segregation, which ap- pears to be spreading increas- ingly into the public sphere in Orthodox communities, is an unremarkable fact. In early October, in the largely Chasidic commu- nity of Williamsburg, Yiddish signs hung on trees shading public sidewalks instructing women, "Precious Jewish daughter, please move to the side when a man approaches." election--a rarity in the Arab world. And it was won bytslamists. How observers view the Tunisian elections and what they mean for the West, Israel and the North African coun- try's tiny Jewish community depends in part on which of the two facts they see as more significant. In the Oct. 24 elections, the Ennahda Party won 90 seats, making it the largest bloc in the 217-member assembly. The Islamist party is now negotiatingwith otherparties to form a government. Many see the Tunisian elec- tion results as a harbinger of Islamist electoral success in a post-Mubarak Egypt and a post-Gadhafi Libya. Those who have welcomed the Arab Spring see Tunisia's relatively peaceful transition to democracy and Ennahda's professed commitments to tolerance and pluralism as positive omens. But other observers of the Arab Spring detect in the Tunisian elections the seeds of an Islamist winter. They ques- tion the sincerity of Ennahda's professions of moderation, and see the Tunisian election results as heralding a much more dangerous Middle East. Many supporters of Israel particularly fear the likeli- hood of a politically empow- ered Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, where a peace treaty for decades has protected Israel's southern flank, though the threat is tempered somewhat by the continued hand of the Egyptian military on the levers of power. Jason Isaacson, the director of international affairs for the American Jewish Committee, which maintains close ties to Tunisia's Jewish community, says there is much to praise in the country's transition from dictatorship to democracy within such a short period of time. But, he warned, "It could go south. There's no question that promises and commit- ments made in an election campaign may be forgotten. It's too early to celebrate." Skeptics of Arab Spring doubt that there will be cause to celebrate anytime soon. "Anyone claiming that this is a moderate group is either lying or has been deceived," wrote Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research and International Affairs Cen- ter at the Interdisciplinary Sex segregation spreads among Orthodox The signs, whose existence was first highlighted on the website Failed Messiah, eventually were taken down by city workers because it is illegal to place private signage on public trees. But in New Square, N.Y., a Chasidic enclave upstate, similar signs remain posted, and residents walk streets strictly divided by gender, with women on one side and men on the other. Local women also are not allowed to drive, though this restriction stems from their deference to rabbinic decree and com- munal pressure rather than from injunctions promoted via public means. Orthodox individuals in- terviewed by the Forward insisted that they were hew- ing to age-old traditions by separating men and women in public spaces. But out- side observers said that the gender segregation on city buses--as well as other re- cent incidents--pointed to the fact that sex separation in the haredi world has become more entrenched in recent years. What's more, they say, by taking these practices from private worship halls and extending them into public spaces like buses and streets, the haredi Orthodox community is asserting it- self in new ways, staking its claim as a cultural force of American life. "What is special about this isn't the segregation of sexes but the segregation in the public domain," said Samuel Heilman, a sociolo- gist at Queens College who has written extensively on the haredi Orthodox. "That didn't happen before. They separated men and women, but they would have never thought to do it on turf that isn't completely theirs. They are saying, 'We own the street, we own the bus, we own the public square.' " The Columbia University Graduate School of Journal- ism's news site, New York World, first reported Oct. 18 that a woman boarding the bus was told forcefully by the other passengers to move to the back. A follow-up report inThe New York Times noted that the rule consigning women to the back also was posted in writing on the bus. Though operated by a pri- vate, Orthodox-owned com- pany, the Bl10 bus, which runs between Borough Park and Williamsburg, trolls a public bus route that the city awarded to the company as a franchise in a competitive bidding process. Therefore it must play by the city's rules, which in line with local and federal public accommoda- tion laws bar discrimination on the basis of gender or race. The story was widely re- ported in the media and garnered a response from Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference. "Private people, you can have a private bus. Go rent a bus, and do what you want on it," the mayor said. On city buses, he said, sex seg- regation was "obviously not permitted." For many in the secular world, the Borough Park-Wil- liamsburg bus story evoked memories of civil rights activ- ist Rosa Parks, who refused to sit at the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala., during the era of legal segregation in the South. But for haredim, the practice of sex segregation on private and public buses alike has a reference point in Israel. In Jerusalem, gender seg- regation on city buses has been a flashpoint of con- troversy for years, pitting haredim who want separate- gender seating on bus lines against their secular coun- terparts. In early October, the Israeli transportation minister said that while the haredi were free to do what theywanted on private buses, the Israeli government could not enforce segregation on city lines. According to Gershom Gorenberg, author of the upcoming book "The Un- making of Israel," pressure for sex segregation in public spaces is part of a ramped- up religious vigilance in the haredi world caused in part by a lack of passed-down direct knowledge of how traditional Jews in earlier generations actually lived day to day. Many such religious and cultural practices were obliterated during the Holocaust, he said, and in their absence, haredi communities in Israel and beyond have adopted a "stricter is better" approach to Jewish, or halachic, law. In fact, they are innova- tions, Gorenberg said. "What I think is remark- able about this is that it is taking place in a community which is declaredly conserva- tive and anti-innovation," he said. According to Heilman, when American haredi Jews visit their Israeli counter- parts, a kind of cultural cross-pollination takes place. with New Yorkers adopting the practices of their peers in the Holy Land. "In Brooklyn they are get- ting their cue from Israel," he said. "The difference is that in Israel, it is a Jewish state." In America, he said, the significance of the practice is more subtle. Signs, such as those posted in Williamsburg urging women to step aside when men approach, promote communitywide norms with which the observant, and even the non-observant, feel bound to comply. By this means, Heilman said, haredi Jews extend religious rules to public spaces, thus flexing their muscles as major play- ers in American cultural life. Ezra Friedlander, a Bor- ough Park native and CEO of the public relations firm the Friedlander Group, dis- agreed, saying that the community's rules were not meant to apply to outsiders. In the case of the Williams- Center in Herzliya, Israel, in an analysis of Ennahda's electoral success. In his analysis, Rubin cited a 1994 article by Middle East scholar Martin Kramer on the rhetoric and writings of Rachid Ghannouchi, En- nahda's founder and current leader, who at the time was seeking a visa to tour the United States. Kramer, then affiliatedwith theWashington Institute for Near East Policy, cited Ghannouchi's support for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hus- sein, who had been defeated recently by a U.S.-led coalition in the first Gulf War. "We must wage unceasing war against the Americans until they leave the land of Election on page 19A burg-Borough Park bus, he said, the haredi riders likely were unaware that they were riding a public bus instead of a private one. Now that they know, he said, they won't be caught off guard should a secular woman decide to sit in the front with the men. "Now that people know that it is a city franchise. I think everyone will un- derstand that you sit on a Borough Park-Williamsburg bus the same way you will sit on a New York City subway," he said. "If men and women of their own volition choose to sit in separate areas, you can't blame them for that. If a woman wants to sit where she wants to sit, that is a right that should be protected. "At the end of the day," he added, "secular law has to carry the day." Friedlander also contested the characterization of gen- der segregation in public spaces as a new phenomenon, noting that segregated buses have always traversed the Borough Park streets. Freier agreed, saying the phenom- enon is an outgrowth of long-held laws of modesty, which permeate every aspect of haredi life. "It has always been this way," she said. "There is no resentment. This is how we have been raised, and we are happy." This story originally ap- peared in the Forward news- paper. To read more, please go to Sarkozy calls Netanyahu 'a liar' in private exchange with Obama PARIS (JTA)--French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "a liar" in a private conversation with President Obama. "I can't stand him anymore, he's a liar," Sarkozy said in French, in comments first reported by the website Arret sur Images. The comment came during an exchange between the two world leaders on Nov. 3 at the G20 confer- ence in Cannes. Obama then responded by saying, "You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day," accord- ing to a translation by the French news agency AFP. Several journalists over- heard the exchange, which was captured by a live micro- phone unbeknownest to the two leaders, but it was not immediately reported. The Arret sur Images web- site said Sarkozywas respond- ing to Obama's concern that the French leader had not warned him about France's surprise vote in favor of Pales- tinian UNESCO membership. The website also reported that Obama asked Sarkozy to try to"convince" the Palestinians to slow down their bid for U.N. membership. "You have to pass the mes- sage along to the Palestinians that they must stop this im- mediately," Obama said of the membership bid, according to Reuters. Sarkozy confirmed that France would not take any unilateral decisions during the forthcoming Security Council debate on the subject. "I am with you on that," Obama replied, according to Reuters. AFP and Reuters both con- firmed the i nitialArret sur Im- ages report, and AFP reported that it interviewed several journalistswho said they heard the private conversation right before a joint news conference by the two leaders. According to Arret sur Im- ages, Obamaand Sarkozywere speaking in a room equipped with microphones normally used to facilitate translation during public speaking. An event organizer did not dis- tribute the headphones typi- cally used to connect to the translation boxes, but several journalists plugged in their own earphones and could hear some three minutes at the end of the conversation. Prdsidence de la Rpublique/P. Segrette/C. Alix French President Nicolas Sarkozy told President Obama that he believed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a 'liar.' The comment took place at a joint press conference Nov. 3 at the G20 meeting in Cannes, France.