It all started a year ago when
Maccabi Tel Aviv pulls out all the stops in letting its sensuous cheerleaders show gyrating hips, flashes of thigh, glimpses of cleavage or smouldering looks. Its fans take delight in cheering the cheerleaders on.
Hapoel Jerusalem is quite a different story. Because so many of its fans are Orthodox Jews who frown on public displays of femininity, and because the team is required to have cheerleaders, they have fulfilled their league obligation by presenting a group of girls whose outfits have been called “footless white tights and tops resembling maternity frocks.”
Now the right wing orthodox opponents to cheerleaders have found a very unlikely partner in their objection to the sexy cheerleaders -- left wing feminists who view the antics of the scantily clad girls with disdain.
Things have come to a head in recent weeks as politicians of different hues have taken up the issue, in what the Israeli media have dubbed "the coalition against cheerleaders."
"It's a combination of two camps that are often hostile to each other, the religious and the feminists," said lawmaker Uri Orbach of the religious Jewish Home party.
Orbach, who petitioned Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat, says he has nothing against cheerleaders in general, but is opposed to fining clubs that don't want them.
"The reasons are religious ones -- 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.
According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, women are required to dress modestly, covering up their arms to their wrists and legs to the ankles. They also refrain from wearing trousers or tight clothing.
But Orbach also cited feminist reasons for joining the 19 women's groups that appealed to Livnat.
"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," he said.
At a recent game in
, most fans sat impassively as the troupe performed. There were no jeers or catcalls, but many said they would prefer a cheerleader-free environment. Jerusalem
"It is not right that the league administration forces the club to use things that cause unpleasantness for much of the crowd. It is an embarrassment and outrageous," said 19-year-old fan Avishai Slonim.
The cheerleaders say they understand the sensitivities and try to adapt. "That's why the girls are dressed in long tights, with hair gathered. Their appearance is very respectable. Their movements don't project any sort of sexuality," said Yael Brainess, their trainer and choreographer.
"They do lots of acrobatics and create energy, not through feminine movements, but more through strength," she said, adding that they have received positive feedback from the fans.
However, some say the restricted performances do a disservice to the sport of cheerleading.
"It's a bit primitive for God's sake," said Anna Tarasova, a formerWe'll let you be the judge. Here are examples of the two cheerleader performances. First, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and then Hapoel Jerusalem. Enjoy!
cheerleading coach and now head of the Tel Aviv dancers. "The girls need to dance and give a good show." Jerusalem
Following the petitions, Livnat appealed to the league, which agreed to do away with the fines, replacing them with financial incentives for teams that do use cheerleaders.
"She did it from the feminist side of things. She told them it was unacceptable to have fines and girls under the age of 16 performing," said Livnat's spokesman, Ran Lior.
And it appears that the undisclosed bonuses for clubs using cheerleaders was enough to entice Hapoel Jerusalem to maintain their troupe, even though they publicly disavow any connection.