Meet Jerusalem’s ‘Orthodox feminist’ would-be mayor

Meet Jerusalem’s ‘Orthodox feminist’ would-be mayor

Stephen Oryszczuk speaks to Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who wants to be the next mayor of Jerusalem, about her mission to get Charedi women involved in the country’s politics

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum argues the Torah does not say women cannot run for political office
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum argues the Torah does not say women cannot run for political office

To Jerusalem’s religious Jews, her long blonde hair, luscious eyelashes and blue furry body were a step too far, so they took a knife and scratched her face from the billboard advertising her. Who was this blonde bombshell? Smurfette – a character from the latest Smurfs film.

Thankfully, not all Jerusalem’s Orthodox Jews are alike. Pluralism comes first and foremost for some, who find solace in the Jerusalem Movement, Women Changing Jerusalem, and the political party Yerushalmim, whose leadership now includes a prominent British-born woman who made aliyah in 2001.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, an advocate of immigrant and women’s rights, is of good stock, being the daughter of the late Sir Joshua Hassan QC, Gibraltar’s first mayor and four-time chief minister. A Sephardi Jew of Moroccan origin, he was central to the British colony’s civil rights movements, which just goes to show that it’s in the blood.

Nowhere were her sentiments better expressed than after the Jerusalem Gay Pride attack in 2015, when she wrote: “Despite the chorus of bigoted and extreme voices we sometimes hear, we are not giving up on our city as a city belonging to all its residents regardless of religious and sexual persuasion, gender, race, colour or political belief system.”

Now, with Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat gunning for national office but taking flak from all sides, Hassan-Nahoum has her sights set on the city’s top job when it’s next available in October 2018. But who is she?

Born in London, she grew up in Gibraltar before returning to London to study law at King’s College. She qualified as a barrister, practicing in the capital, and then became the campaign director of World Jewish Relief.

That notorious Smurfs ad, minus Smurfette
That notorious Smurfs ad, minus Smurfette

Along with her husband, she made aliyah from Britain in 2001 during the second intifada. Her legal experience complemented her later work in Israel at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, where she helped new immigrants, known as olim, from distant shores.

They need help acclimatising to Israeli society, she says, because, unlike European or American Jews, who often have ready-made networks, they usually know no one.

Nir Barkat
Nir Barkat

“You know what it’s like in the Jewish world,” she says. “You always know someone, especially in Israel. But for those from Ethiopia or northern Russia, or Jewish orphans from Odessa, what network do they have?

We became their network.”

She joined the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemite) Party in 2013 and ran for the city council. Fleur was not originally elected but due to the list system, joined the parliament when others stood down. When her party resigned from the coalition, she became leader of the opposition.

Still, she was impressed with the party’s ethos promoting pluralism in the city and by party founder, Rachel Azaria.

An “Orthodox feminist” committed to allowing harmonious living between Orthodox Jews, secular Jews and Arabs, Azaria is now a member of the Knesset for the centrist Kulanu Party.

“It’s a path I may take,” considers Hassan-Nahoum, “but right now I’m very much
committed to the city.”

Among her campaigns is an effort to persuade more of Jerusalem’s Charedi women to become involved in politics.

“At the moment there are none, but many want to be political representatives,” she says. “But the Charedi parties don’t allow women to run with them for any office in the country.

“They claim there’s something in the Torah against it, but that’s complete nonsense. There’s nothing. So you have these modern suffragettes in Israel.”

At a recent political conference, she says she was rubbing shoulders with female Arab political representatives but there were no Charedi women at all, because Charedi men – according to Hassan-Nahoum – won’t allow it.

“They simply want to hold all the power,” she says. “The women – their women can work, bring in the main income, have 10 kids, have a top job in high-tech, but God forbid they should be political representatives!

“I know Orthodox feminists who want to run, who want the situation to change, who say this is like the Taliban, and who think their community is becoming more and more extreme, so I’m helping them. I see this as one of my main fights right now. I think it is as important as the suffragette movement was in the 1920s.”

She says part of this involves awareness-raising and education, and part is legal. “Declare that parties who do not include women on their lists are illegal and will not get government funding. If we manage to do that, we’ve won,” she says.

Her father, you suspect, would be extremely proud.



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