Public 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.
Director of Public Inquiries Department
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.