Fearing costly vandalism aimed at buses carrying advertisements that include images of women; to avoid legal issues of discrimination if only images of men appear; and to side-step head-on collisions with Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community; Egged, Israel’s public bus cooperative has ordered the company handling its on-bus advertising to stop running ads with pictures or representations of either men or women. As of August 1, a “faceless” policy was put into effect.
Vandalizing public advertisements bearing women’s pictures is not a new issue. Bus shelters, for instance, were frequently damaged or destroyed going back decades. More recently, issues of discrimination against women in the capitol have become headline affairs. The present issue came to a head eight months ago when the Yerushalmim organization – an NGO advocating for a pluralistic city of Jerusalem—sued in the High Court of Justice to force Canaan, the exclusive ad agency for the Egged bus company, to run its campaign featuring “The Women of Jerusalem.” Its legal effort was supported by the Ministry of Transportation, which submitted a brief objecting to any censorship of photos of women. According to Yerushalmim CEO Rabbi Uri Ayalon, at that point it seemed that the matter was solved and the ads, replete with photos, would be running on Egged buses.
According to Ayalon, the apparent understanding fell apart when the discussion turned to the specifics of the images submitted by the NGO to the ad agency for the buses to carry. At issue was the length of the sleeves the models were shown wearing. Yerushalmim insists that when it agreed to the sleeve issue, a new request was made to replace T-shirts with long-sleeve blouses.
While the back-and-forth was continuing, Egged decided to change its policy and ban advertising in the Jerusalem market that contained any human images at all. Canaan told Yerushalmim it would honor its commitment for a ten day period, after which time the agreement to run its ads would lapse. Ayalon told The Media Line that his organization did, indeed, submit its ads in a timely manner, but Canaan differed, saying the NGO failed to get the ads in before the contract expired.
Yerushalmim was established in 2009 by Jerusalem residents advocating a pluralistic city. Opposing the exclusion of women from the public sphere, the organization kicked-off its campaign one-year ago in response to the censorship of an ad campaign of women. It included ads displayed on balconies and street stands throughout the city of Jerusalem that featured images of women. Yerushalmim claims bus ads have been free of female images for the past eight years; and five years in the case of posters.
Nissim Zohar, director of marketing for Zohar advertising company, told The Media Line that “for years” his agency had been trying to place ads in Jerusalem that included images of women. Zohar credited Mayor Nir Barkat with raising the issue six months ago, resulting in media coverage of the issue and subsequently, more than 500 posters were displayed around the city.
Advertisements that feature women have found a home on Jerusalem bridges, though.
Uri Neter, CEO of Rapid Vision, franchise-holder for billboards affixed to bridges in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that, “We divided advertising on bridges in large formats across the platforms. Currently we don’t have any ads with women, but [when we did] we didn’t have a problem because it is hard to get to the bridges and cause damage because of the height.”
Canaan CEO Ohad Gibli told The Media Line the “faceless” policy instituted by Egged and prompted by the Yerushalmim fracas has cost him his Jerusalem offices which he recently closed, citing a loss of more than $60,000 month. Gibli said for Egged, it’s just a business decision stemming from the financial costs the bus company has sustained in the past due to acts of vandalism.
A spokesperson for Canaan said that there is a lot of provocation around this story, but since there is no problem of discrimination now, no decision is expected.
Ayalon, though, disagreed and told The Media Line that not publishing any human images in Jerusalem while allowing it everywhere else is also an act of discrimination, and that Yerushalmim will continue to pursue the issue. The group’s attorney, Aviad Hacohen, told The Media Line that, “It’s not only an act against women, but it’s an act against men – it’s against freedom of speech and equality.”