As a Jewish American female journalist, I have noticed that in not a few instances, there appears to be a parallel between anti-Semitism and gender-based discrimination in our region of the world. It seems that many of the same Middle Eastern dictatorships that systematically promote anti-Semitic rhetoric often engage in misogynist behavior and systematically discriminate or display barbaric cruelty against women.
MEMRI recently reported that Yemenite political analyst Salim Al Muntaser stated that peace between Israel and the Western powers will only come about once “the Zionist entity is removed” and that Tel Aviv will be targeted by missiles “from Yemen.” Such rhetoric is not surprising, given that the Houthis govern most of Yemen now and they are known for their anti-Semitic ideology.
Yet at the same time, Yemen is one of the worst countries in which to be a woman. Yemeni women are forced to wear niqab, suffer from child marriages, domestic violence, honor crimes and a series of other indignities, which have only gotten worse since the Houthis rose to prominence during the Yemeni Civil War.
As one Yemeni woman told Amnesty International: “I was traveling with three children when we were stopped at a checkpoint by Houthi forces. They detained us, with no food and water during very hot weather. We begged them to let us pass but they refused. They insulted us and threatened us with rape. We panicked and started crying… when they were done with us, they left us on the street at night in a secluded and isolated area… We were afraid, and the children terrified.” Recently, the UN Security Council employed sanctions on top Yemeni Houthi officials for engaging in “intimidation, systematic arrests, detentions, torture, sexual violence and rape against politically active women.”
The same arguments that were made above regarding Yemen can also be made about the Islamic Republic of Iran. In recent days, the State of Israel blamed Iran for an oil spill off the coast of the Jewish state, which caused the greatest environmental disaster that the country has seen in recent years. Iran, a country that routinely chants “death to Israel,” also was reportedly behind an attack on an Israeli-owned ship in the Persian Gulf. They are also building nuclear weapons, which could be used against Israel at a future date.
Yet just as much as Iran attacks the Jewish state, they also harm the women in their country. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is illegal to execute virgins, so women on death row are systematically raped before they are slaughtered. Further, mandatory hijab is official state policy. In honor of International Women’s Day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States will grant a special Women of Courage Award to Shohreh Bayat, an Iranian female chess player who went into exile following her decision to violate her country’s dress code.
This comes after it was reported that the Islamic Republic of Iran hung an already dead woman, who had a heart attack while sitting on death row. The woman, Zahra Esmaili, was accused of murdering the husband who had severely abused her.
However, Iran’s gender-based discrimination does not end there. Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi noted in an article she wrote for The National: “Before the revolution, I was a judge who presided over a court; after the revolution, however, I became an administrative worker, along with 50 other female judges. I became secretary of the same court I had previously been the head of.”
Due to the reality that it is illegal for a woman to be a judge in Iran, Shrin Ebadi resigned from her position and became a lawyer dedicated to fighting against human rights violations in her country. She is not the only one. To date, Iranian women continue to suffer immensely under the iron grip of the mullah’s regime, which stifles the freedom of their women just as much as it poses a threat to the Jewish state.
How a society treats its women and girls seems to be a window showing us how they will look at the State of Israel and the Jewish people at large.
The Talmud teaches, "Be careful if you make a woman cry, because G-d counts her tears. The woman came out of a man's rib. Not from his feet to be walked on. Not from his head to be superior, but from his side to be equal. Under the arm to be protected and next to the heart to be loved."
If someone cannot even treat his own wife, mother, sister or daughter with the respect and dignity that she deserves, why should he not terrorize and threaten what he sees as a similar threat to his brutal power - the State of Israel or the few Jews that remain in his midst?
And most telling of all - How can women's organizations ignore the behavior towards women in Islamist countries and still consider themselves supportive of women, criticizing Israel for imagined discrimination against Palestinian Arab women when it is these women's own societal mores that are to blame? This is an issue that we must stop ignoring and instead address on International Women's Day.
Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. She is the author of "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media."