The proud feminism of an unprecedented number of women political leaders is new to the Israeli political scene. But after the elections, there will be a lot of work to do to translate this into real leverage and real change for women in Israel.
Israel’s Election Day is upon us, but the women’s vote is still up for grabs. Parties from right to left, religious and secular, are engaging in an overt battle to appeal not only to women, but to feminist-minded folks in general. This is an unprecedented trend in Israeli politics, and if Israel follows the recent American elections, women may constitute a still-underestimated demographic in the Israeli election.
From the beginning of this election season, there have been several key moments marked by historic gender events. Not only are there currently six parties headed by women, including two major parties – Shelly Yacimovich of Labor and Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah – but all of these women are also actively advocating for a broad feminist agenda of gender equity. In fact, women representatives of all major parties gathered last week in a remarkable show of cross-party collaboration to jointly advocate for women’s leadership. This is the first election where these powerful calls are being heard in such a multi-partisan way.
Moreover, the proud feminism is new. Golda Meir, the only woman prime minister in Israel’s history, may have broken the Knesset ceiling that one time in 1969, but she was also avowedly anti-feminist. Yacimovich, by contrast, was elected as her party leader after having spent an entire career as a feminist activist. Livni, who was known to distance herself Golda-like from the pro-feminist agenda during her stint as justice minister, has done a complete about-face over the past few years, openly seeking out feminist allies and making frequent and unequivocal statements about the collective challenges that women face. “I used to think that the obstacles I faced in politics were my own,” Livni famously said at a feminist conference at Ben Gurion University two years ago, “but I finally realized that women everywhere face the same obstacles. That was a turning point for me.”