Jewfem Blog

Will these election herald in the "year of the woman"? My op-ed in Ha'aretz

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. Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yacimovich. Photo by Nir Kafri 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.”

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Kadima without Livni

Tzipi Livni, the incumbent Kadima chair who lost Tuesday’s party primary to former Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, is not your typical Israeli politician. She’s just not slimy enough. When she speaks, she seems to be telling you what she actually believes. In a profile of her in Yediot Aharonot last year, the worst thing people said about her was that she wasn’t friendly enough and sometimes closed her door so as not to be interrupted. So either she is too aloof or too protective of her privacy. Either way, she didn’t play the game right. Actually, that’s probably why she lost. She does not have the callousness required to win in Israeli politics. Shaul Mofaz, on the other hand, we have a glut of guys like him in Israeli politics — men who think that they have everything coming to them because they know how to lead troops to war. What this has to do with actually running an actual country eludes me, unless you count the demands for an inflated ego and a big car, which seem to be common to both jobs. The overabundance of generals leading our fragile nation explains a lot about the situation we are in vis à vis our neighbors as well as vis à vis ourselves: Everything is viewed as a war. Whether talking about security, environmental issues or social justice, the general — or former general — always sees the other person as an adversary to be out-maneuvered, out-manipulated and ultimately beaten. It explains why despite months of intense and broadly supported social justice protests, little has changed. In fact, electricity prices went up 26% in the past 12 months. Read more:

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