Jerusalem councilwoman proposes interfaith forum for women

June 27, 2012

JERUSALEM

A Jerusalem city councilwoman said she will work towards creating a forum of women under the city’s auspices that would cut across religious lines in order to fight growing religious extremism.

“It is essential for women to cooperate,” said Rachel Azaria, speaking at a discussion on June 18 during the 21st annual conference of the Interreligious Coordinating Council for Israel (ICCI), which promotes interreligious dialogue and peace.

Azaria identifies herself as an Orthodox Jew and has served on the Jerusalem city council since 2008 as a member of the pluralistic Jerusalemite Party.

In response to an audience suggestion, Azaria said she would strive to create a women’s forum which would include Muslim and Christian Palestinian women, something which is not always obvious or simple in politically divided Jerusalem.

“We should work together; we don’t have a choice. We have to unite on these issues; the moderates should work together against the extremists on all sides,” Azaria said.

One such issue is so-called honor killings in the Arab sector. Typically, a male family member kills a female relative for a perceived slight to the family honor if she dresses “immodestly,” or meets a man who is not a family member, she said.

“It is all our responsibility to make sure the police respond to these murders of women as they would to any other murder,” she said.

Both Laila Abed Rabo, a researcher on Islamic law at the Hebrew University and a women’s rights activist in the Arab-Muslim community, and Nora Kort, a specialist in community development who works for the Arab Christian community, also said they would support such a forum.

“This could just be the starting point from where we could get out to improve the connection between women regardless of their religion,” Abed Rabo told ENInews.

The three women said they believe religion has become a tool in the hands of extremists, misusing it to subjugate women. Part of the problem, in addition to men who try to control women, said Abed Rabo, is that many Muslim women are ignorant of their rights within the organized structure of Islam. Education, she said, is therefore critical if the status of women is to improve.

Some 70 people attended the discussion, including both men and women and a larger than normal proportion of Palestinians.

“I think these are issues we have in common and the way we can be more effective is to unite and marginalize the extremists rather than let them take control,” noted ICCI associate director Sara Bernstein, who moderated the session.

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