Israelis Protest Breastfeeding Harassment

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Maya Norton breastfeeding in a restaurant her baby

Maya Norton

Check out my interview with Tel Aviv Radio by host Amir Mizroch, starting at 30 minutes.  You can see the picture by Amir Schiby that I mention in the interview.

Last month, a mother visited a Petach Tikva mall with her two small children. The baby got hungry. While the mother knew of a nursing room in the mall, it was “claustrophic and small,” and on a different floor. So she went off to the side, sat down on the floor with her toddler, and began to feed the baby. After a few minutes, the mall manager, accompanied by a security guard, approached her. The manager told her that she could not nurse the baby there and that she should go to the nursing room. The mother tried to explain but ultimately felt so humiliated that she left the mall.

This incident and others sparked a breastfeeding protest, the first of its kind in Israel. From November 11-13, people switched their Facebook profile pages to photos of breastfeeding mothers.  On December 24, “nurse-ins” are scheduled for malls throughout the country. In Tel Aviv, nursing mothers gathered at Kikar Rabin to protest harassment.

Israeli is breastfeeding-friendly. Most moms I know have never been criticized for breastfeeding in public. However, this could be changing.

While Mizroch was clearly on the side of mothers, an astounding level of disgust and hostility has been aimed at breastfeeding mothers in the Israeli press.  One talk-show host harangued the protest’s organizers, in the most obnoxious way possible, about how breastfeeding mothers ought to be more considerate toward people like him who do not want to see such spectacles.

I’m all for being nice. But in our society, we don’t require people to give up their rights in order to be nice. And babies have a right to eat just like every other human being. Mothers have a right to be out in public with their babies in tow, and feed them however and wherever they choose. Mature adults who value consideration ought to show some for nursing mothers and babies.

Asking breastfeeding mothers to move is sexual harassment, because it makes breastfeeding into something sexual when it’s not. Eating does not need to be hidden.

Tamar Zandberg of Meretz has proposed a law protecting the right of mothers and babies to breastfeed everywhere, regardless of the amount of breast exposed. This is necessary, because otherwise the complainant can argue that the mother was not nursing discreetly enough.

For the record, the mothers harassed at Sirkin, the post office, and Cafe Greg were all religious mothers who took care not to show skin. Exposure is not the issue.

I’ll share the full text of the proposed law when it becomes available.

As part of the protest, I asked a stranger if I could photograph her with her baby. The mom turned out to be long-time internet friend and blog fan, Maya Norton.

You may also enjoy:

Is Public Breastfeeding “Immodest”? An Orthodox Jewish Perspective

Nursing in the Ezrat Nashim (Nursing in the Synagogue)

Exclusion of (Breastfeeding) Women

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Comments

  1. I think there are many worse “spectacles” around Petach Tikva than the beautiful healthy site of a nursing child. How about taking down 2x life size sign with the lady in leopard print underwear that is above the underwear store on the pedestrian mall?

    I think we should focus less on rights and more on the idea that it is beneficial to the health of our society when women nurse their babies as long as possible. Israel seems to be really good at embarrassing and harassing nursing mothers (or mothers who had planned to give nursing a try) from the minute their babies are born. We need to make it easy AND convenient for mothers to nurse wherever they are.

    Nursing in public helps other young women see that this is normal and healthy. Secluding nursing women to “mother’s rooms”, no matter how large and comfortable, doesn’t always help this cause. My kupat cholim (health clinic) has a REALLY nice room with a comfy chair, changing table, sink, room for a stroller… But does that mean I want to drag my kids in there or loose my spot in line!? Women should be encouraged to nurse wherever THEY feel comfortable, and that may start with seeing other women nurse in public in a normal situation, not an emergency or a protest.
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  2. Good interview. I wish smokers would ask me, “Do you mind if I smoke here?” Nursing moms ask me all the time! I’m so embarrassed for the both of us. Please, nurse away! No need to turn away or juggle a blanket to hide your baby from the world! Stare into your baby’s eyes. We could even make small talk WHILE you’re nursing! Nursing moms are still interesting human beings even WHILE feeding their child!
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  3. You are totally correct that it is not about exposure. This video is in the US, but the issue is the same. If you give a look you will see that to start with, mom was basically facing a wall – much less exposed, and wound up much more exposed as she was being harassed by staff person. The real irony here is that you hear her saying that she can ask anyone, wearing a sports bra etc. to leave. Then as she is walking away you get a shot of another woman whose top leaves almost as much exposed as the nursing mom. Somehow that does not catch her attention

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  4. I was at Jerusalem Mall in Malcha the other day and saw a mother breastfeeding. I was rather happy to see it, as I know it’s become an issue here lately. The mother was probably passed by hundreds of people while she was feeding her baby, and it didn’t look like anyone disturbed her. She wasn’t off to the side where no one would notice her, either. She was seated on a bench leading to the food court.

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    • If that’s the mall I’m thinking of, then any objections would be totally absurd. I put a link into my name with a cartoon by David Horsey. It makes my point far better than I could make it words. I’ll only say that some of the ads I remember seeing put the ad in the cartoon to shame.

      latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/la-na-tt-breastfeeding-moms-20120705-001,0,80104.photo#axzz2l99mLm4x (put www. at the beginning if the link in my name doesn’t work.)

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  5. I was wondering whether it should be encouraging and accepting mothers who want to nurse discreetly in public or providing ‘ nursing rooms ‘ ?
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    • Breastfeeding rooms are good too, mothers should be accommodated however they want to feed. What did you feel was discouraging or unaccepting?

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    • ‘Nursing rooms’ are nice for places that want to attract mothers with babies. I think that’s a usually a commercial decision, not a humanitarian one. But, 1. I don’t go to the mall to hide in a little room. and 2. It is far from unusual to see a mommy bottle feeding an infant there, often with her husband/partner.

      My preference would be if people would generally ignore the fact that a woman is nursing, unless they have something positive to say. If she’s at a restaurant, serve her. If she doesn’t look in need of assistance, there is no reason to “helpfully” inform her of the availability of a nursing room or to offer her a cloth or blanket to help her in her modesty.

      Women who are more comfortable alone or with a cover-up, will probably search out a quiet, secluded location or inquire about a nursing room, and probably bring along a shawl or ‘nappy’. But even the most modest new mother should not be sent to a broom closet who’s only vent opens to a smoking area!!
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