The New Battleground in Israel: Cheerleaders

Israel’s closest equivalent to the Laker Girls, the cheerleaders for basketball team Hapoel Jerusalem, aren’t what you would expect from cheerleaders. Many of Hapoel’s fans and supporters are Orthodox Jews who don’t like the idea of seeing scantily clad women dancing around and are trying to get the cheerleaders ousted, despite an Israeli basketball league ruling that every team must have a cheer squad and teams who defy the rule will be fined. France24.com describes the Hapoel cheerleaders’ outfits as “footless white tights and tops resembling maternity frocks.” Surprisingly, the Orthodox groups who oppose the cheer squad’s existence have found an incredibly unlikely ally – feminist groups, who don’t like the idea of women on display.

One of Hapoel’s rivals, Maccabi Tel Aviv, has no problem putting their cheerleaders in skimpy outfits and letting them do sexy routines. When the two teams play each other, the huge differences between the teams and their respective hometowns is highlighted. Since the country’s establishment, there has always been a sense of duality between Israel’s two biggest cities. Jerusalem is considered old, traditional, and religious;  Tel Aviv’s reputation is as the free-spirited, modern, secular place. In Jerusalem, there are neighborhoods where you’ll get rocks thrown at you if you are driving a car on the Sabbath; in Tel Aviv many people use their religious day of rest to lounge at the beach and attend drug-fueled raves. There are entire books and movies about this old dichotomy – Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s The Bubble is about the way that people in Tel Aviv are “protected” from the ongoing military skirmishes that are a daily part of life in most of the rest of the country and features hipster characters who are interchangeable with the cool scenesters in Williamsburg or Silver Lake.

In Israel, where even things that aren’t political are political (quoth my cousin Omri), the basketball court has become yet another battlefield in an already besieged country. This time, however, it’s not the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that’s at the center – it’s Israelis against each other. With left wing feminists and right wing ultrareligious types banding together, should we claim a proposed cheerleader ban as progress?

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