When Israeli musician Hanna Goor was booted offstage at a concert in Ashdod for wearing a bikini top, the incident was instantly framed in the international press — including in the Forward — as Israel’s “burkini moment.”
The comparison was obvious: in France, Muslim women are being forced by to take off their conservative swimwear at the beach while in Israel a Jewish woman in a bikini is told to cover up.
But the 34-year-old singer rejects the notion that the Israeli and French authorities are both oppressing women in the same way. In fact, she defended the ban on burkinis as part of the global fight for women’s rights. The ban was overturned last week by a French court, but police have continued to target Muslim women in modest swimwear.
“What they are trying to do in France is so right,” she said of the anti-burkini policy. “No woman would have wanted to get into a burkini in 40 degrees celsius into the ocean.”
Goor believes that Muslim women who wear the burkini, a spandex body suit with a built-in skirt and head-covering, are victims of a sexist culture that denies them the freedom to dress how they choose. It’s the same sexist culture, she maintains, that forced her offstage on Friday at the August Festival organized by the Ministry of Culture.
Fifteen French towns outlawed the conservative swimwear in response to the terror attack in Nice in July, when a truck driver drove through a Bastille Day celebration, killing 80. The driver had reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
French officials defended that the law against burkinis as a way to uphold France’s secular values, claiming that the burkini and other Islamic clothing demonstrated that Muslims are unable to assimilate into French culture. But the maker of the burkini said that the modest swimwear was intended to help Muslims better take part in Western culture.
Critics of France’s burkini ban said that it violated freedom of religious expression, and by framing the burkini as a public safety threat used women as a pawn in the fight against Islamic extremism. “The battle against violent religious fundamentalism and terror shouldn’t be fought on the backs of women,” wrote Allison Kaplan Sommer in Haaretz.
But Goor doesn’t see it that way. In her view, the burkini is the real culprit, not the French police. She sees the outfit as a symbol of the ill treatment of Muslim women, rather than a religious choice by the women who wear it. The burkini represents “oppression” she said.
Goor said that there was nothing provocative about her decision to wear a bikini top with an open shirt and shorts to her performance on a hot day near the beach. Many of the concert-goers were also in swimwear, she said. After she performed two songs, a production manager walked onto the stage and told her, “You need to get dressed.” Goor refused and sang another two songs, when the production manager came back with a police officer, she said. Instead of putting up a fight, Goor exited the stage, cutting her set short.
Goor was outraged. “I am an artist and I can wear whatever I want onstage,” she said. “The fact that I am a woman and the fact that I have breasts should not offend anyone.”
The Culture Ministry denied that Goor was removed from the stage prematurely, but said that her dress did “not respect the general public,” and so “removing her from the stage became necessary whether or not an error occurred,” according to Haaretz.
The Culture Ministry is now drafting a set of modesty guidelines for the production companies it contracts with for public events.
Goor said that the incident was a sign that Israeli society is in a “regression” when it comes to respecting women’s rights in the public sphere. “It makes me very sad and it is very hard to think that an artist will have to answer to some code that comes from above,” she said.
Goor, who is working on her second album, believes she was booted offstage because of the influence of ultra-Orthodox standards in Israel. But she said she has no conflict with religious Jews in Israel, calling herself a “believer.” “We need to coexist,” she said of secular and religious Israelis and those in between. “I’m not making them take off their clothes, they shouldn’t make me put on more clothes.”
But burkinis, she maintains, are beyond the pale.
“There is a line,” she said. “When you make a burkini you cross that line so hard.”
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.