Barbra Streisand criticizes treatment of women in Israel

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Barbra Streisand, a singer and actress often considered a Jewish-American icon, has waded into controversy during her trip to Israel. When giving a commencement speech at Jerusalem's Hebrew University on Monday (June 17), Streisand criticized the influence of ultra-Orthodox Jews on laws regarding women in the country.

"It's distressing to read about women in Israel being forced to sit in the back of the bus," Streisand said. "Or when we hear about 'Women of the Wall' having metal chairs thrown at them when they attempt to peacefully and legally pray."

The incidents to which Streisand referred both involved ultra-Orthodox men imposing traditional Jewish rules in modern society. There have been isolated incidents in which men have attempted to force women to move to the back of the bus when passing through Orthodox neighborhoods. In addition to this, some ultra-Orthodox men have actively prevented women wearing prayer shawls or carrying Torah scrolls when visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Although legislation and court decisions have supported women's rights in these cases, there is still a long route to full condemnation of the oppressive practices.

Despite the specific nature of these incidents, some see them as symptomatic of a larger problem in Israeli society. Ultra-Orthodox Jews live mostly separate from society, but they are known to have a strong influence on the country's governmental and religious affairs.

In the rest of her speech, Streisand -- who was receiving an honorary doctorate from the university -- spoke warmly about the school and its record number of female Ph.D. graduates this year. The Hebrew University stop is part of Streisand's first visit to Israel since 1984. She will perform two concerts in the country later this week.

Photo/Video credit: Getty Images
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