Exclusion of (Breastfeeding) Women in Beit Shemesh and Hod Hasharon

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Hebrew text of Navon correspondence with Israel Post

image: religious mom breastfeeding in Israeli parkPublic breastfeeding is in the news again, after a nursing mom was asked to leave a café in the Sharonim mall in Hod Hasharon. Tal Eisenberg asked a waitress to find her a comfortable seat to nurse her baby. Tal then overheard the shift manager asking the waitress whether Tal was nursing, and instructing her to find an excuse to make Tal leave. That waitress, and then a second one, approached Tal and asked her to leave without explanation. Tal and her mother took the baby, who was by now screaming at having his feeding interrupted, and left the café.

She posted her story on the huge Facebook group “Mamazone,” whose members left angry messages on the café chain’s Facebook page. The café apologized and suspended the manager. Ultimately the chain got a lot of positive, yet undeserved, publicity.

But another incident occurred that has not gotten attention, and no apology issued. On August 29, Dalit Navon took her 11-day-old baby to a post office in Ramat Beit Shemesh A to buy stamps. Her purchase completed, she sat to feed the baby. The clerk, a Mrs. R., announced in front of the customers that Navon needed to leave, asking how she could allow herself to nurse there.  Navon was shocked and humiliated. The clerk then added that Navon should go and nurse in the medical clinic outside, or somewhere else.

Despite her shock Navon continued feeding her newborn. She told Mrs. R. that she would need to call the police if she wanted Navon to leave. Mrs. R. then suggested that Navon go into the small adjoining room, but retracted the offer upon recalling that the room contained a safe. While Navon’s baby continued to eat, Mrs. R. and a customer continued a long discussion of the matter, alternately in English and French, throwing glances at Navon all the while.

Navon ended her complaint with this statement: “Imagine—I am sitting and nursing a baby only days old, and two women are standing in front of me discussing my ‘great hutzpah in nursing a baby in a public place.'”

A second customer did confront Mrs. R. in defense of Navon.

The post office responded quickly to Navon’s letter. E., a representative of the complaints division, told her that the clerk was afraid that extremists would come and attack her and the baby. [MiI: This is in light of the incidents in Ramat Beit Shemesh B where a woman wearing pants was attacked with stones, and girls from a national religious school were shouted at and spit upon. There was no indication or mention of such a concern during the incident.]  E. also suggested that Navon should be considerate of the feelings of the clerk, and recognize the pressure she was under.

Navon asked for a written response, and received the following: 

The Israel Postal Service serves, in an equal way and with no discrimination, all citizens of Israel, in their variety, beliefs and worldviews. In this case, the clerk needed to show you appropriate sensitivity on the one hand, and toward the religious citizen who complained on the other, and to try to balance between your feelings and rights and feelings of the customer making the complaint.

The worker was again instructed to preserve the honor of all of the customers who come into the post office.

The postal service will continue to serve all of the public with equality and without any discrimination.

We thank you for your inquiry and bringing our attention to this important matter.

Erez Sirma

Director of Public Inquiries Department

My thoughts:

This situation is much more grave than that of Tal Eisenberg.  The cafe chain apologized and suspended the worker,  but the post office supported its own.  For the record, both women’s breasts were completely covered and no one has suggested otherwise.

In Israel, exclusion of women from the public sphere is a major concern. A female academic had to appoint a man to pick up her prize at a government ceremony. Women have been attacked after refusing to move to the back of the bus. Breastfeeding mothers are as much a part of society as are all mothers and women. When breastfeeding mothers are told to move, yet fathers and mothers who are bottle-feeding are not, this is sexual discrimination and exclusion of women from the public sphere. The response noted that the religious customer made the complaint, but we see from Tal Eisenberg’s story that exclusion of (breastfeeding) women happens in secular settings as well.

Notice that even the representative of the post office compared the “rights and feelings” of the nursing mother to the “feelings” of the complaining customer. A woman has the right to sit wherever she wants with her baby and feed it. People have the right to feel whatever they want about breastfeeding mothers, but they may not act on those opinions. Some people feel uncomfortable with women sitting at the front of the bus, but the court has ruled that women may sit wherever they like without fear of harassment.

The health ministry tells women that they should nurse their babies for at least a year. Yet when they come home from the hospital they find that they have to think ten times before going anywhere. Tal Eisenberg was so upset by her experience that she decided not to nurse again in public. Instead, she’ll pump and give from a bottle every time she goes out. This requires extra planning and effort and puts a mother at risk of engorgement, breast infection, reduced supply and a premature end to breastfeeding. And there will be no guarantee that the baby won’t need to nurse after he finishes the bottle.

Breastfeeding is not a private matter between the mother and baby—it is a public health issue. All of us should support and respect parents, no matter how and where they feed their babies. Breastfeeding women are here to stay and while parts of society may not like it, they are going to have to learn to live with the concept.

You can let the post office know what you think of their “non-discriminatory” policies: Fax: 076-8872251 Cell: 054-2888233 (I suggest sending a text message).

In the United States, the law explicitly states that mothers have the right to nurse wherever they and their babies are allowed to be. Israeli mothers deserve that right as well.

Related:

Why Can’t Breastfeeding Mothers Just Be Nice?

Modiin Mom Told to Nurse in Changing Room

The Zen of Public Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Preschoolers: Not Sensational at All

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Comments

  1. Ben Waxman says:

    “The café apologized and suspended the worker. ”
    the waitress or the shift manager?

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  2. Sad that her reasoning was concern for “religious” people. In Jewish law, a nursing woman is not “ervah.” It is not considered nakedness. This clearly is not a religious issue, but a common issue of uneducated people reacting emotionally in the name of religion. A society must run on laws, not random, arbitrary emotions. The post office worker should be fined.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. I don’t think the issue was respect for religious sensibilities, at all. Despite the (non)explanation of the Post Office, there is no evidence that anyone was making the claim that it was religiously forbidden or anything like it. And, from what little information is being presented, it doesn’t sound like either the post office employee or the other customer were Chareidim or especially religious. Nor is the post office known for it’s great sensitivity to religion – or any other issue, for that matter.

    I suspect that the Cafe chain reacted the way it did because it saw that business would be hurt if not. Of course, it’s also possible that whoever reviewed the incident realized that it was simply the wrong thing to do, but the fact that nothing happened till there was a significant backlash indicates otherwise.

    On the other hand, the post office doesn’t have to worry about losing business (at least in its own mind.) It is also the nature of such bureaucracies to automatically “circle the wagons” and defend its own. But they have to (at least pretend to) behave appropriately, so they same up with a bunch of politically correct gobbledygook that makes no sense on the face of it.

    I agree – this should never have happened. And, the Post office does need to change its policies. But, if the US postal service is anything to go by, writing / calling / texting THEM is not going to get anyone very far. Better to call / write / text your elected public officials, local and national.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    • The local post office branches have been privatized. And while the post office is a monopoly in some areas they offer many other services including banking. They have a great interest in attracting customers.

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      • Then contact the local branch. Is the number you posted the local branch? The reason I ask is that national organizations that are (semi)governmental don’t react quite as numbly and sensibly as smaller, totally private organizations. The people on top think like bureaucrats and politicians,which is why she got such a stupid answer. On the other hand, local management is much more likely to recognize the possibility of loss of business.

        By the way, this is not only a problem in Israel. And, here the biggest cases occur in a completely secular context.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  4. bukin86
    Twitter:
    says:

    Is masturbation in public permitted? Does anyone here have a problem with it if everything is covered up?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 0 Thumb down 9

    • Are you equating feeding baby with masterbation?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      • As in a mother feeding her child as Gd intended is the same as a man sexually pleasuring himself?Please clarify.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      • Three reasons why you should educate yourself:
        1. Masturbation is forbidden by Jewish religious laws. Nursing a baby is not.
        2. Self-pleasure is a heddonistic experience; eating (baby nursing) is a requirement for survival.
        3. Lashan-hora is forbidden. Yet this customer and clerk engaged in constant bashing of the woman for nonsensical reason.

        You may choose to feed your child formula which is made from cows breast milk. You may choose not to. However, your right to feed your baby in public remains so. A woman’s breast was not designed for sexual pleasure, and breastfeeding mothers are choosing to fulfill its purpose.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. ben waxman says:

    i don’t think that firing the employee in either case is called for. a stern reprimand, maybe suspended w/o pay for a week (at most) or something like that would be enough for the employee in question. more importantly the cafe (and every other cafe) should make sure to clarify its policies and let all employees know that mommy and baby have every right to be there and that the only question that the waiter/waitress should ask is “can i freshen your capachino?”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. It’s hard to know whether you are correct. Is it possible that the chain DID have a policy, and felt that they needed to take strong action once they realized what the backlash was? Could it because she tried to cover up what was happening and got another worker involved, that the chain reacted so strongly?

    Does anyone have any more information?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. I live in the US. Is there a different number that I can send a text message to, or will the one you provided work?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Hi Julia, how are you? I don’t know if texts work internationally. Israel’s prefix is 972.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Thanks, I am well. I actually mentioned this post to my mom and she was curious to know if the shift manager and post office clerk were Americans, because they seem to have the very American hang-up of nursing in public (idk what the attitude is over there, it seems similar though)… It’s so sad and I really hope that some day women can feed their babies with out feeling like all eyes are on them and all judgement and whispers aimed at them…

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  8. The poor post-office clerk had to make a decision. She had a complaining customer on the one hand, and the nursing mother on the other. I’m sure she tried to deal with the situation as best she could. She probably thought it might be easier to ask the nursing mother if she wouldn’t mind leaving, than to ask the complaining client to shut up and ingore her. The clerk isnt’ exactly going to say to the nursing mother “Madam you’d better leave cos I’m worried this ultra-orthodox man here is going to attack you if you continue breast feeding here” -since the complainer was probably standing right there.
    In short, I think the response from the Post Office was fair enough, and the response of the clerk was reasonable.
    I am a mother of 7 who does nurse in public, covered up, but if someone were to ask me if I could do it somewhere else I would respect that. What’s the big deal here?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

    • where do you see that the clerk did what she did because of some complaining customer? according to the story presented here, it was all on the clerk’s initiative. later, some other yenta (a woman, not an XY chromosome type) weighed in.

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      • The post office representative claimed the clerk was responding to a complaint. Dalit did not hear about this complaint until she got the letter and we do not know if this was the case. It could be he was referring to the “yenta.”

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    • IF there was a complaint, it was from a woman, so the clerk was not in a position where she had to worry about her physical safety. And, since when is it appropriate to respond to unreasonable complaints by making unreasonable demands of other customers – and to actually join the complaints?!

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. I am all for women breasting feeding wherever and whenever – but would be interested in your opinion on this story – http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/american-university-professor-breast-feeds-sick-baby-in-class-sparking-debate/2012/09/11/54a06856-fc12-11e1-8adc-499661afe377_story.html?hpid=z3
    American University professor breast-feeds sick baby in class, sparking debate
    By Nick Anderson, Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 12:18 PM
    One day late last month at American University, Adrienne Pine was in a jam. The assistant anthropology professor was scheduled to begin her course “Sex, Gender & Culture.” But her baby daughter woke up with a fever, and the single mother worried that she had no good child-care options.

    So Pine brought her sick baby to class.

    The baby, in a blue onesie, crawled on the floor when she wasn’t strapped onto Pine’s back. The mother extracted a paper clip from the girl’s mouth at one point and shooed her away from an electrical outlet. When the baby grew restless during the 75-minute afternoon session with 40 students, according to the professor’s account, Pine breast-fed her while continuing to lecture and review the syllabus. A teaching assistant also held and rocked the child.

    At the conclusion of her lecture, Pine figured that was the end of it. But word of the unusual opening-day class was spreading via Twitter and Facebook.

    When a reporter for the student newspaper asked her about what happened, Pine grew incensed. She decided to get in the first word with an online essay titled “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing my Breasts on the Internet.” In it, Pine wrote that she was “shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy.”

    As a result of the queries, she wrote, her workplace had become “a hostile environment.”

    Now the campus community and others who have been following Pine’s story are debating whether the professor did the right thing by bringing her sick baby to the Aug. 28 class and breast-feeding her. They also are questioning her response, when she publicly upbraided student journalists and asserted that the tone of a reporter’s questions implied an “anti-woman” view.

    On Tuesday, university officials issued a statement that appeared to convey disapproval.

    “For the sake of the child and the public health of the campus community, when faced with the challenge of caring for a sick child in the case where backup childcare is not available, a faculty member should take earned leave and arrange for someone else to cover the class, not bring a sick child into the classroom,” the statement said.

    The statement, e-mailed by Camille Lepre, a spokeswoman, indicated that the university follows federal and D.C. law for nursing mothers.

    “A faculty member’s conduct in the classroom must be professional,” the statement said. “Faculty may maintain a focus on professional responsibilities in the classroom by taking advantage of the options the university provides, including reasonable break times, private areas for nursing mothers to express milk, and leave in the case of a sick child.”

    The university also said Pine’s essay “does not reflect professional conduct,” as officials took issue with her characterizations of American University students.

    Pine, in her fourth year of teaching at AU, continues to teach, Lepre said.

    Pine, via e-mail, declined requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday, referring questions to Lepre.

    In her essay, on counterpunch.org, Pine summed up her view: “So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.”

    No article about the matter could be found Tuesday morning on the Web site of the Eagle, the university’s student newspaper. But there were several comments on an online message board called Eagle Rants.

    One said: “Shame on The Eagle for harassing a professor in pursuit of a completely unnewsworthy ‘story.’ ”

    Another said: “These dogmatic academic types never admit their inappropriateness, but rather scorn at the ‘uncultured’ world around them.”

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    • I saw the story earlier and don’t understand the fuss. Why cancel class for a child who is not that sick and just needs his mother nearby? In a feminist anthropology course, no less.

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      • Exactly. I’d have done the same thing.

        I can only imagine the whining if the class had been cancelled, especially for her to care for her baby.

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      • Actually, I think that that was the real issue, not the notice that the child was crawling around, and the mother had to pay attention her, to keep her safe. And, in between the TA had to hold and rock the child. That’s just not appropriate, in my opinion.

        The issue of nursing is a total red herring, in my opinion. From what the article says, it sounds like the original question was a bit more open ended, and it was the teacher who turned it into a debate over nursing.

        Nice way to divert the conversation away from the fact that she turned the TA into a personal assistant, and created a situation where the class was disrupted.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        • Observer–you’re right, she should have brought a babysitter along with her.

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          • from what i’ve been told by many TAs and graduate students, the professor’s behavior (making her TA take care of her child (ya’ani have the student do the professor’s personal errands)) is entirely common and hardly surprising.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. we need to help the public make a paradigm shift by addressing their concerns. Also I don’t like the attitude if their is a problem , I don’t have to be part of the solution – let the nursing mom go out , and not – let me turn the other way or find a mutually satisfying solution
    Allan Katz recently posted..First CPS , then do RT – restorative justiceMy Profile

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    • Allan–the public doesn’t have an actual concern–rather, they associate breastfeeding with sex so they think it shouldn’t be seen in public. It’s emotional, and understandable, but not a rational concern that one can address logically. Let’s not put the burden for those feelings on the mother and baby.

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