This was the battle that played out on Israeli social media over the past few days: respect versus intolerance. Bravery versus misogyny. Inclusion versus polarization. Goodness versus hatred.
The story revolves around Linor Abargil, a former Miss World and model who became a lawyer. Here is how this story played out:
- On Yom Ha’atzmaut, my feed was flooded with an inspiring video of Marie Nahmias, a 92-year-old woman who raised eight children of her own and fostered 52 Jewish and Arab children. She was honored with lighting a torch on Yom Ha’atzmaut. In a heartwarming scene, she blessed Am Yisrael with peace among Jews, Arabs, Christians and Druze. What a testament to the values this country espouses, where we give respect to those who do acts of chesed (kindness) and honor the elderly. Marie Nahmias was introduced by one of the presenters, Linor Abargil. Both Abargil and Nahmias come from Sephardic countries, so the fact that they were featured is not insignificant. As women and as Sephardim, they stand for two groups who have been underrepresented and discriminated against in the past. The choice to honor and feature them is representative of a more inclusive Israel today.
- The next day the story dominating my feed was the shaming of Abargil by a retired judge in a Facebook post. What for? For her physical appearance at the ceremony, including her tall head covering and the dress she wore. The language in the post, which is not worth sharing, shows distaste for religious people, Sephardim in particular, and objectifies women. This is particularly cruel given Abargil’s past story: six weeks before being crowned Miss World 1998, she was raped by her Israeli travel agent. She was brave enough to report the crime, which resulted in conviction. Later, she married and became religious.
- Coming to the rescue was a post by secular Likud MK Sharren Haskel, who fought the post about Abargil by expressing solidarity with women who cover their hair. She posted a photo with her hair covered and called for secular women to join her by covering their hair for a week in support of religious women who choose to cover their hair. Other leaders have spoken out in favor of Abargil as well.
While some will argue that this story illustrates the continuing divide and disdain between groups in Israeli society, it is actually indicative of a growing respect and bridge-building among Israelis of different identities and backgrounds today.
Watching the ceremony, I felt pride at seeing a religious Sephardic woman take center stage. Watching this story unfold on social media, I was moved by Abargil’s life story and Haskel’s support for women’s choice of religious observance. When an honoree lights the torch on Yom Ha’atzmaut they say, “le-tiferet Medinat Yisrael!” “For the glory of the State of Israel!” By continuing to highlight justice, respect, goodness and pride in the variety of identities in Israeli society these women continue to quell intolerance and bring glory to Israel.