When asked at a JOFA panel about the status of women in Israel and what can be done to protect women’s basic rights, I replied that I would first make it illegal for a political party that has no women on its list to run for the Knesset. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this sentiment. In fact, a new movement is beginning to form of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox women fighting against the exclusion of women from religious political parties.
Esti Shoshan, a haredi journalist, recently started a Facebook page called Lo nivharot, lo boharot, which means “If we can’t be elected, we are not voting.” As of this writing, the group has over 800 likes — perhaps not the stuff of a Steve Jobs fan page, but signs of movement nonetheless. And it comes at a particularly significant time in the development of religious politics. The legality of religious parties of Shas and United Torah Judaism is currently being debated by the Elections Council, under the leadership of Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein, based on a petition filed by a coalition of seven organizations led by Jerusalem city council member Laura Wharton contesting the systemic exclusion of women from party lists.
“The sad situation of women’s under-representation in the Knesset, is imminent,” the petition states, adding that, “an absurd situation has been created in which the country subsidizes bodies that discriminate against women.”
Women have a “different role” than men, Shas and United Torah Judaism wrote in their response. “The parties function, as demanded by the halakha (Jewish law), with clear segregation between men and women for reasons of modesty. Men have one role and women have another. This segregation does not exclude women, discriminate against them nor deem them less worthy than men.”