The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is (in)famous for altering images to remove women, lest anyone get the wrong idea they’re equal to men. (The actual excuse is that pictures of women might offend the community’s “stringent modesty standards.”)
They removed Hillary Clinton from the iconic picture of the White House Situation Room during the Osama bin Laden raid. They also removed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo from a picture of world leaders. Jennifer Lawrence was notably absent in posters for The Hunger Games movies.
Even Smurfette couldn’t be seen in a poster for Smurfs: The Lost Village.
In 2017, this “rule” extended to an IKEA catalog for a store in Israel, leading the furniture giant to apologize for the actions of one of its branches, but now the company is getting sued for gender discrimination over the incident.
— Alfons López Tena #FBPE (@alfonslopeztena) February 16, 2017
The multimillion-dollar lawsuit was filed as a class-action case at the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday on behalf of Hannah Katsman, an Orthodox woman from the Israeli town of Petach Tikvah, and advocacy group the Israel Religious Action, according to Haaretz.
Katsman discovered the heavily edited catalog in her mailbox in 2017 and soon after enlisted the help of the advocacy center, which specializes in gender discrimination on religious grounds. The group has now launched a legal battle against the Israeli branch of Ikea, and its director Shuki Koblenz.
Court documents for the lawsuit say the “total exclusion of woman and girls.. sends a serious and difficult message that women have no value and there is something wrong with their presence, even in the family-home space depicted in the catalog.”
The suit is asking Ikea to pay compensation of 1,500 shekels ($415) each to almost 10,000 ultra-Orthodox women because the company allegedly “severely insulted, angered and traumatized” the catalog recipients. It’s also asking for a normal catalog with photos of both men and women to be distributed throughout the community.
We are all for religious tolerance at this site — but when tolerance for one group overrides the dignity of another, well, that’s where things get tricky. That said, going after IKEA for trying to appease a certain group of vocal religious customers seems like a tough sell if the goal is to prove gender discrimination. (Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…)
Beyond the lawsuit, though, erasing women from the catalogue makes little sense as a marketing tactic: Who is producing the male children in this catalogue, anyway? Does the husband do all the household cleaning by himself? Even a sexist society would likely depict women as homemakers instead of erasing them completely. This branch of IKEA shouldn’t have written off 50% of its customer base, especially considering how Israel is full of more progressive-leaning people who have no moral conflict about spending their money at a place that depicts family life in an accurate, inclusive manner.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)