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Ikea faces class-action lawsuit in Israel for male-only catalog

The cover of a 2017 Ikea catalog targeted toward ultra-Orthodox Jews. Photo courtesy of Sam Sokol

JERUSALEM (RNS) — An Ikea catalog aimed at Israel’s Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community has spurred a class-action suit on the grounds of gender discrimination.

The 2017 catalog, which was marketed to religious neighborhoods around the country, featured photos of Haredi men and boys in its home-furnishing layouts but excluded images of women or girls.

Ikea’s Swedish headquarters issued an apology at the time after widespread condemnation from Israeli rights organizations.

The 2018 catalog geared toward the Haredi market contained no photos of either men or women.

The lawsuit, which was filed last week against the Israeli division of Ikea and its director, Shuki Koblenz, charges that the exclusion of females “sends a serious and difficult message that women have no value and that there is something wrong with their presence, even in the family-home space depicted in the catalog.”

The complaint seeks $4 million in compensation for Haredi women, according to The Jerusalem Post.

A 2017 Ikea catalog targeted toward ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel was criticized for including no images of women. Photo courtesy of Sam Sokol

Religious modesty and the marginalization of women have long been flashpoints in Israel, where many Haredi rabbis have deemed it unholy to portray women’s images in everything from newspapers and government notices to billboards and bus ads.

The same rabbis have called for gender segregation on public buses and in other public places.

The Israel Religious Action Center, which filed the suit, has already won gender-discrimination suits against a national bus company and a radio station.

Hannah Katsman, the suit’s co-petitioner, told Religion News Service she learned about the 2017 Haredi catalog after it was left in her mailbox. She is modern Orthodox and lives in a religiously diverse city in central Israel.

Katsman said she objects to the catalog “because it conveys the message that women don’t count and aren’t part of the family.”

Yet in reality, she said, women are at the very heart of the typical Haredi home.

“Girls growing up in that community don’t see other girls in the media, in ads. It doesn’t portray them having a role,” she said. “They have been eliminated.”

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