IKEA under fire for male-only catalog in Israel

The move was a departure for the Swedish retailer, whose catalogues normally offer a idealized glimpse of diversity. But not a single woman or girl. In an effort to appeal to the country’s ultra-Orthodox Jews and their increasingly stringent modesty norms, the niche catalog IKEA Israel released this month depicts Orthodox men with side curls and boys wearing yarmulkes in domestic settings — at a table set for a Sabbath meal, in a study with display cases lined with religious books. “We will make sure that future publications will reflect what IKEA stands for and at the same time show respect for Haredi community.”
The ultra-Orthodox — also known as Haredim — make up about 10 percent of a population of 8.5 million. Photo courtesy of Sam Sokol

JERUSALEM (RNS) Swedish furniture retailer IKEA has sparked an uproar in Israel with the publication of a catalog without women. Koblenz said the brochure had been “customized specifically for the Haredi community in an attempt to reach this insular minority community in Israel with commercial messages.”

Writer Miriam Metzinger, who once led an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, said Haredi consumers, who tend to have large families, are important for Israeli retailers because they need “low cost furniture, given their birthrate and income level.”

No women are present in a recent IKEA catalog targeted to ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. In 2012, the company apologized for photoshopping out photos of women from IKEA catalogs distributed in Saudi Arabia. “We realize that people are upset about this and that the publication does not live up to what IKEA stands for and we apologize for this,” he said in a statement sent to RNS. Photo courtesy of Sam Sokol

It’s not the first time the Swedish company wades into trouble in the Middle East. The regular Israeli IKEA catalogue distributed nationally looks like the one distributed in other countries, with both sexes and no identifiably Jewish content other than being in Hebrew. Photo courtesy of Sam Sokol

IKEA’s retail manager for Israel, Shuky Koblenz, expressed regret over the women-less publication. Sam Sokol, a modern-Orthodox reporter for IBA News who has long followed ultra-Orthodox trends, said the catalog “is part of the growing trend of purging the images of women from ultra-Orthodox publications and is presented by its proponents as being consistent with religious tradition … but it’s actually misogynistic market segmentation.”
(Michele Chabin is RNS’ Jerusalem correspondent)
  In America, IKEA started featuring gay couples in ads already back in the 1990s, prompting calls for boycotts by religious conservatives. A recent IKEA catalog targeted to ultra-Orthodox Jews concentrates on male products. The cover of a recent IKEA catalog targeted to ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. In Israel, critics say efforts by ultra-Orthodox rabbis to keep images of women out of advertisements and segregate men and women on public buses and other public places amounts to a human rights violation.