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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Leave Sara Netanyahu Alone

  Getty Images The induction of the new Knesset this week raised some crucial issues for women in Israeli society, but you’d never know it from following the news. The blogosphere was abuzz this week, but not with stories about the significant strides made by women — for example, the record number of women Knesset members and party leaders; the fact that the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, the only religious party with women on its list and gender issues in its platform, now holds a key position in coalition negotiations; or the fact that negotiations hinge in large part on demands for mandatory conscription of haredi men, a plan with serious implications for women in the status of women IDF. All of these issues may potentially affect women’s lives and status in Israel, but apparently they’re all, well, boring. The real news, apparently (even here at the Sisterhood) was what Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s wife wore to the inauguration. There are many good reasons why Sara Netanyahu’s dress should not be news. For one thing, she is not a lawmaker and therefore should not be the focus of the story. The news of the day should have been about 120 incoming legislators, 48 of whom are completely new to the institution and 27 of whom are women. It should have been about issues on the national agenda and the civic mission of the new Knesset, not on spouses’ clothing. Second of all, if Sara Netanyahu had any relevance on the events of the day, it is related to her ideas and influence on the most powerful man in the country. It took Netanyahu several days after the elections to contact Naftali Bennet, the head of Habayit Hayehudi, reportedly because Sara doesn’t like him. If we want to discuss Sara’s role in the Israel, we should be talking about why she doesn’t want Bennet in the coalition, and how her taste in politicians — not her taste in clothing — will impact Israel’s government. Finally, and most importantly, the discussion of Sara’s attire reduces our public discourse, especially about women, and drags us all into the gutter. This whole story is more of a reflection about us as a society than it is about Sara’s taste. What does it say about our values when, on the day when we are forming a new government that will impact every aspect of our civic lives, all we are interested in is the so-called fashion police? Consider how shallow it is to care more about style than substance as we empty our minds and completely undermine our lawmakers. After all, if we are asking them to represent us and then demonstrate an undying commitment to rubbish, how will our lawmakers interpret “the needs and interests of the people” when it comes to creating legislation on our behalf? One can only wonder. How can we ask them to take us seriously when we don’t take ourselves seriously? Significantly, several lawmakers from different sides of the...

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