Jewfem Blog

Women shaking up elections in Israel

[Crossposted from Huffington Post] Israeli women are shaking up the political system in their country in some intriguing and even exciting ways. With national elections set for March, it seems that election fever has provoked a tsunami of women's readiness for change, especially around women's issues. Across parties, in groups with different religious and ethnic make-ups, bubbles are forming that indicate that finally women are fighting back against the all-boys' club that has characterized Israeli politics for so long. Energies are coming in from many new and exciting directions, and the language of social change for women is everywhere. The most obvious indication of change comes from the sheer number of women holding top spots in their parties. The Labor-Hatnua party, which is currently the only party with a realistic chance of overthrowing the Netanyahu government, has Tzipi Livni as co-chair and thus potential prime minister -- which would make her the first female prime minister in Israel since Golda Meir was elected, the only woman PM in Israel's history, in 1969. Moreover, three out of the top four slots are held by women. And even more exciting, two of them, Shelly Yachimovich and Stav Shaffir, have had careers as active feminists. The lesson from Golda is this: it's not enough to just aspire to have women in power. We need women with a feminist consciousness to bring change for women at large. Feminist women have been causing movement in several other parties as well. It goes without saying that Meretz, headed by the indomitable Zehava Galon, has been front and center on women's issues from the start, and the only party with 50-50 on gender on their lists. But other parties are starting to get the message. Deputy Jerusalem mayor Rachel Azaria, a staunch activist on behalf of women's rights, announced that she is joining the new Kulanu party of Moshe Cachlon, at number four on the list. The fact that Cachlon actively sought her out suggests that he is wooing the feminist vote. On the other side of the spectrum Aida Toma, an Arab feminist activist, is now number two on the Arab Hadash party list, indicating that there, too, feminism has become a selling point. Tensions still exist, though, feminist activist Batya Kahana Dror also announced that she was running for the Jewish Home party -- currently the only religious party that allows women on its list -- but she had to drop out following an interview in which she veered from the party's extreme right wing national agenda and suggested "practical solutions" to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Feminism, it seems, is not quite as averse to right-wing religious radicals as the idea of a diplomatic solution. The party now has two women in its top ten slots, one of whom, Shuli Muallem, has partnered with women in other parties on feminist legislation. (The top woman in the party holds positions on minorities in Israel that I do not view as having much social value, feminist or otherwise.) Still, in terms of actual female representation,...

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