Dozens of female members of Knesset were denied entry to the Knesset today. The reason? The lengths of their skirts.
More than 40 women who work as assistants and advisers to Israel’s parliament members showed up to the Knesset in above-the-knee skirts and dresses to protest what they see as an overzealous dress code enforced only recently against women.
The Knesset does have long-standing rules for appropriate attire, including a ban on tank tops, cropped tops, shorts, ripped pants, shirts with political slogans, as well as short skirts and dresses. Guards, however, are lax about enforcement. And it is applied arbitrarily with many employees and visitors donning casual attire such as jeans and sandals.
Also there is no indication in the guidelines of what constitutes “short.” So long as the look is kept professional, above-the-knee-skirts or dresses have never caused a problem in the past.
Over the past week, however, at least two female aides said they had either been barred entry or delayed at the door by guards because their dresses were deemed too short. One women was sent home to change, while another was only allowed in after the parliament member she works with complained directly to Knesset director general Albert Saharovich.
Haaretz reported on Monday that Shaked Hasson, an aide for MK Merav Michaeli, was delayed for more than an hour at the entrance to the building. She said she was examined by five male guards who believed her dress was too short.
“Members of the Knesset need aides and assistants to work with them no matter what they are wearing,” said Michaeli later in a statement.
Today’s protest caused quite a ruckus at the entrance to Israel’s legislature, with members of Knesset, including some men, coming out to support the women. One parliament member even stripped down to his undershirt in solidarity.
The female protesters initially banned from entry today were eventually allowed inside.
Manuel Trajtenberg, a member of the Zionist Union party, took off his shirt and shouted: “Tomorrow you will have to wear burqas.”
Later, Trajtenberg said that while he is in favor of respectable dress codes to honor national institutions, the dress rules were not clear and applied mainly to women.
“I have no doubt this is discrimination against women. The dress code for men has nothing to do with style, like the women’s code does. We need to respect and not humiliate these amazing women who work with all their hearts,” said Trajtenberg.
One of the aides prevented from entering told The Jerusalem Post that the focus on the clothing of women who are not dressed provocatively was “small-minded.”
“I didn’t choose to work in the place laws are passed so people would focus on my body instead of letting me do my job,” said Liron Shalish.
The union representing parliamentary aides said in a statement that it believed the change in enforcement “is an order of the new Knesset director general and the management of the Knesset to more strictly enforce the dress code.”
On Monday, director general Saharovich held a meeting with the union and said that the dress code would be enforced but with “sensitivity and common sense,” Israeli media reported.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ruth Eglash