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The Schmooze

Making Cheerleading Unsexy, One Team at a Time

There is more than one game being played on the basketball court of Hapoel Jerusalem. Of course, the floor sees its share of basketball, but the secondary game is a battle of wits between the religious and secular elements of society — and the pawns in the game are the cheerleaders.

Ah, cheerleaders, known less for their inspirational you-go-get-‘em attitude than for attire that can charitably be labeled “skimpy.” Israel’s basketball league got on the bandwagon last year, decreeing that every team must have cheerleaders. But Hapoel Jerusalem refused, saying cheerleaders would offend its religious fans. So the league responded by slapping the team with a fine: cheer, gosh darn it!

So now, the Hapoel Jerusalem cheerleaders dress in a dramatically unsexy “fashion” and perform in a deliberately lackluster way in order to show that they are complying with the league rules — but are unhappy about it.

The dispute has been the subject of what could be called an unholy alliance: Orthodox fans have linked up with feminists, both determined to make sure teams are not fined for not having cheerleaders.

The religious Jewish Home Party Knesset member Uri Orbach said his reasons for opposing the fine are religious. “The [lack of] modesty bothers many of the fans. When they go to a basketball game, they don’t want to see girls in minis dancing,” he said to Agence France-Presse. “In my eyes, it is chauvinistic that a crowd of mostly men needs to pass the time-outs watching young girls dancing and shaking. That seems pretty repulsive to me,” Orbach said.

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