Jewfem Blog

Shouldn't Zionism Prioritize the Rights of Women?

It’s hard to be a feminist in Israel today. You walk around thinking that it should be obvious that women are equal human beings, fully capable of living independent, free lives. But that belief is challenged in every corner of your life, every day. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Michal Patelle Sure, there are some signs in Israel that women are doing great. We have women pilots, women as heads of the Supreme Court, and even a woman Nobel Prize winnerin science. We once even had a woman prime minister, elected back in the sixties. Indeed, today more bachelor’s degrees are handed out to Israeli women than to men. All these are nice little snapshots of a country where there is a possibility of women to make real advances. But these snapshots are only part of the picture. Looking deeper, they do not reflect the reality on the ground. Take the issue of women in academia, for example. The bachelor’s level is where equality ends. There are more women than men in universities, but fewer female professors. In fact, as the professional level rises, men outnumber women in increasing proportions, like an inverted pyramid. Men are promoted more and more, despite a larger pool of women. This obnoxious pattern has persisted for decades. Or take women in politics. Although the number of women Knesset members has increased gradually over the past 15 years, we are still below 30% female representation. What’s worse, on the municipal level only two out of the 230 cities in Israel have women mayors. It is an appalling statistic. And by the way, even though we have had several women heading the Supreme Court, all told only 10 out of 64 Supreme Court justices. The issue of women in the army is also a problem. Although the army has also been slowly including more women in coveted positions many of the most elite units are still all male. Women’s positions are also under tremendous threat from the pressure to conscript more religious soldiers – whose first demand is always to remove women’s presence. The army is reportedly building an all-male base, and already a few weeks ago women soldiers were asked to leave the mess hall when religious soldiers needed to eat. Get ready for more of that. All of this somehow makes sense to the army establishment. And that’s because in general there is an entire sexist culture in the army which assumes women to be weaker, lesser, not serious. My daughter, a Captain in Intelligence in the IDF, constantly tells me stories of the grassroots sexist culture she experiences. Sure, women can rise to certain places, but the sexism remains ubiquitous. This in turn affects the entire culture of women in business. Israel is heralded as a hi-tech haven, and yet women are systematically excluded from that world, where business relationships are usually culled from those elite army units where women are usually absent. Women head fewer than 8% of top hi-tech companies in Israel and are a mere 16.6% of board members all told. Women are often just not seen, like in the bestselling book...

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My political evolution (Lilith Mag)

I remember when I fell in love with Zionism. It was 9th grade at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, the course on Zionism with the legendary Yotav Eliach. Yotav was a great teacher – clear, impassioned, relevant, and totally unconcerned with things like attendance and grades. He would just sit there, sometimes eating his pizza, and talk. He made everything seem so easy, neat and uncomplicated, and he gave us purpose and identity. He taught us that Zionism Is Jewish Nationalism, that Jordan is really Palestine, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation, that self-determination is a smokescreen, that anti-Zionism is just a reincarnation of anti-Semitism, that Jews have always lived in the land that we now call Israel, that there are Jewish responses to claims about Deir Yassin, and more. It was like preparing for an AIPAC convention, or for being Israel advocates on campus – in fact both AIPAC and Israel advocacy were important parts of my life so many years ago. For me, Yotav's class was a big part of the reason why I decided to live in Israel. By the time I was 16 I was telling people that I planned on making Aliyah, and in fact I was here by the time I was 23, married with a baby. Everything seemed right. So in some ways, I'm still that Zionist and part of me still loves what Yotav did for me. I'm still living in Israel where I pay mortgage and taxes, conduct my life in Hebrew, argue with taxi drivers, and watch my kids serve in the army. And parts of the narrative about why Jews need and deserve a state of our own in this space still stick with me. I get emotional at Zionist events, I feel a thrill seeing my children in uniform, and I get excited by things like Israeli doctors saving victims of a tsunami. Still, with all that Israel pride, many aspects of Yotav's Zionism have been replaced in my consciousness by a different kind of Zionism, as I started asking questions about truth and illusion, about polemics versus reality, and about the difference between having justice on your side versus having compassion on your side. Something was missing from the Brooklyn Zionism I was brought up on – even if that is, in some ways, the same Zionism that Prime Minister Netanyahu practices, along with a majority of Israelis today. I found cracks in the narrative that wore down the pretty montage. Perspectives seemed muted. The story was too effortful, as if we were taught to answer the questions before we had a chance to ask them. A turning point for me came a few years ago, when I got a job as a writer for an Israeli media- monitoring organization. My job was to write organizational copy that rebuts what was perceived as anti-Israel bias in all kinds of articles, op-eds and television stories. Whenever we came across statements by Palestinians that talk about "occupation",...

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