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Why Hillary is the pro-Israel candidate

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Clinton AIPAC

Cross-posted from the Jerusalem Post Op-eds Last week, I registered to vote in the American elections. It is the first time in my nearly 25 years in Israel that I plan to vote as an American. I am doing it because I love the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president of the United States, and am excited about helping her get into office. She is an outstanding candidate and would likely be one of the best presidents America has ever had. And also, it would be an amazing thing for women everywhere. Sadly, however, I realize that I am in a minority among Americans living in Israel. I heard some strange things at the registration event. “I don’t know much about the candidates,” one women admitted, “but I think I’ll vote for Trump.” Another woman said, “Trump is a good businessman.” I guess news about his 3,500 lawsuits, four bankruptcies and habit of cheating his suppliers hasn’t reached Tel Aviv.  I have been having a hard time finding a strong cadre of support for Hillary in Israel. An online group of olim for Hillary has only a handful of members. And two weeks ago, I was trying to find someone to go with to attend a pro-Hillary meeting in Jerusalem, and I could not get one person in my entire city of Modi’in to come with me. The apathy was palpable. Meanwhile Trump seems to have a base of support in Israel that, while mind-blowing in some ways, is not entirely surprising. The idea that Trump is “good for Israel” while Hillary is “bad for Israel” has been filling up my Facebook feed for a while. In the previous presidential election, 85 percent of eligible US voters living in Israel supported the Republican nominee, according to the supposedly non-partisan iVote Israel, and the organization Republicans Overseas assumes this to still be true. In fact, Trump announced that he is opening up a campaign headquarters here to connect with his voter base. The Trump support among olim reflects some troubling realities about what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Trump is a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic reality television show performer and conspiracy theory aficionado. His voters, a group dominated by what Professor Michael Kimmel terms “Angry White Men,” seem to like that about him. Yet among Americans here in Israel, none of that seems to even matter – because here, the only thing that matters is his stance on Israel. Which means the candidate with the most right-wing, militaristic and unilateral approach to the Palestinian-Israel conflict is considered the most pro-Israel. It is why Trump received an astounding standing ovation at the AIPAC convention. Some Jews are willing to ignore everything about him as long as he says that the Jews are right and the Palestinians are wrong. For the record, Clinton is very vocal about fighting terrorism and protecting Israel’s security, and is known to be pro armed forces when needed – in fact, she is considered too war-hawkish by her critics. Yet,...

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Hillary Clinton is forcing some of us to face our own ideologies

Some days I think, all am I doing in life is unlearning all the wrong things I was taught growing up. So much of what I was taught -- about people, about women, about relationships, about money, about being Jewish, about Israel, about race, about motherhood, about sex, about how to live my life, about what is really important -- turned out to be profoundly wrong. I think I've spent the past 25 years reteaching myself how to live. This is okay when the process is spread out over a few decades. After all, change is hard, so doing it gradually can be better than ripping the bandaid right off. But  I think that the election is particularly painful because it is about this, about realizing that so much of what we thought was correct was really not correct at all. That maybe the American version of freedom and democracy has not turned out to be the greatest one on earth in practice. Income inequality, gender inequality, racism, verbal violence, physical violence, sexual violence -- these are some big stains on American culture. America really is not doing so well in a lot of ways, and in fact has a poor record on lots of vital issues: America is the only western country not to have parental leave, it is one of the few that has still never had a woman president, and in fact it comes 97th in world in terms of representation of women in the legislature. 97th in the world! And look how hard it is to advance women -- as I read this week, one of the most qualified candidates ever to run is running against one of the most unqualified candidates ever to run, and the race is close! So this election is forcing a lot of Americans to face the fact that the "great America" of the past may have been a myth. Like Happy Days, it never really existed. That is a tough reality to stomach. And the realization that so much of what we were brought up on to believe to be true was actually racist, sexist and xenophobic. At least the way I was brought up. I think about this so often vis a vis Hillary Clinton. She was completely vilified in my house when she came into the public eye in the early 90s. She was proof that working women were a plague on American culture. She was held up as the model of the cold, heartless, selfish, ugly, bad mother. She was that ridiculous feminist trying to be a man. Why can't these women just accept their own difference, I would hear. (Which was a euphemism for, why can't women be satisfied as unpaid, unfulfilled housewives?) You don't have to be a man to be equal, we heard. You can be equal and different. This, as I listened to members of my family describe how a woman cannot be a lawyer because she is too emotional, or how a woman...

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For Women, Gender Bias Continues Even In Death

I read obituaries. I like getting the whole picture about a person’s life, to be moved by other people’s passions and work. Perhaps it is the sociologist in me, inspired by Margaret Mead, who liked to be inspired by people’s real lives.   Perhaps it is more compulsive, my need to know where we are headed, like my habit of reading the last page of book before I am done. I want to know the purpose of this story – our lives, the narratives we craft for ourselves – where the narrator is trying to lead us. I’m impatient for the ending. I want to know right now, every day, what makes life – my life, your life – meaningful.   Or maybe I like commiserating with mourners, because being in a space where sadness dwells give me permission to embrace my own mourning needs, without having to explain too much. Being a woman in the world often means living with constant injustices and assaults, and maybe sometimes I want to dwell in the reality of loss, an incessant daily loss.   Indeed, as I read obituaries, I cannot help but feel the dearth of women. Most days, on the New York Times home page, where there is only room for mention of three obituaries, there are no women at all. Some days one of three will be women, but I have only rarely ever seen two women there, and never all three. (I am reminded of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comment that she will only be satisfied when all nine seats on the Supreme Court bench are occupied by women. I suppose that is how I feel about the obit section.)   The absence of women in the obituaries was noted last year by Lynn Melnick and then picked up by Amanda Hess at Slate. Melnick counted 9 out of 66 obituaries about women, or 13.6%. Melnick told Slate, “I would guess there are dozens of writers, scientists, and academics whose lives and deaths go unnoticed because the men’s lives are perceived as more of note”. Indeed. It is this sense that women’s lives matter less – that sense which so many of us experience on a daily basis – that is permanently reinforced by a life slipping away unnoted. It is a tragedy that pours truckloads of pain over the already painful loss of life. It is that unbearable sense that our presence on this earth is simply not important. Last week, as I pored over lists of “Notable Deaths of 2015”, I decided to look a bit more scientifically at this phenomenon. So I sat down and counted. Yes, I went through a bunch of major news outlets and actually counted how many women were mentioned – and why. Here is some of what I found: Read more:

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When High-Profile Sexual Predators Find High-Profile Support

  Image: YouTube Many members of the Jewish community are scratching their heads these days about the seemingly bizarre decision by the board of the Riverdale Jewish Center to keep on Jonathan Rosenblatt as their communal rabbi despite significant evidence that he has been acting inappropriately in his leadership role. To be fair there are people like Dr Steven Bayme who, according to the New York Times , decided that they cannot morally justify staying in such a synagogue, despite four decades of commitment, and for that they should be commended. And yet, despite what seems like an obvious history of violations of some basic moral and Jewish tenets, the board is retaining Rosenblatt, making victims of sexual abuse and their allies question the ethical backbone of the entire Orthodox community. In fact, though, we should not be so surprised by the support that Rosenblatt has gotten from some of his balabusim and some of his peers. There is a long list of sexual predators and other Torah offenders who have received enviable support even as their sins come to light. Motti Elon, for example, who was convicted of sexual assault against his male students, has a strong following in Israel and abroad, and is frequently invited as a lecturer around the country. Marc Gafni , another long-time sexual offender, is considered a celebrity in many places, while his offenses barely find mention in his bio or on his Wikipedia page (“Best-selling author” it is). Michael Broyde , whose bizarre crimes of fraud were not sexual but nevertheless far out of the bounds of Torah, seems to be leading a new minyan of followers. And while Barry Freundel is largely condemned for his outrageously hurtful crimes of mikveh voyeurism, he had many vocal supporters before the undeniable evidence against him came to light, and many voices of support during sentencing – including Orthodox machers and pundits declaring, “It’s not rape” and therefore he should have gotten a much shorter sentence. It is not only in the Jewish world where high-profile sexual predators find high-profile support. It has taken dozens of testimonies of women and several decades before anyone began taking seriously the allegations against Bill Cosby – and he still has some major celebrity supporters. Accusations against Dominique Kahn-Strauss were dismissed by some of his peers with a jovial, “Everyone knows he likes women.” And in fact all we have to do is look to the Supreme Court where Clarence Thomas has been sitting silently for over two decades despite powerful testimony about sexual harassment against him. It seems as if it is often easier for men in positions of power to wiggle out of accusations of sexual abuse than it is for victims to be believed. This dynamic has a lot to do with bystander phenomenon. As Judith Herman wrote in her trail-blazing book “Trauma and Recovery,” all that abusers need from the world is passivity in order to continue abusing. Intervention, which benefits the victims, is much harder to receive than passivity. The default position of the observing world, of...

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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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A Political Tipping Point for Ultra-Orthodox Women?

There is a new feminist revolution happening in Israel, and it is emerging from one of the most surprising places: Ultra-Orthodoxy. Over the past two years, ultra-Orthodox or haredi women have been organizing around feminist issues. They began with a campaign during the 2012 national elections, when a small group of women led by haredi journalist Esti Shushan and others formed a group called “Lo nivcharot; lo bocharot” (LoNiLoBo), which means, if we can’t be elected, we will not vote for you. It was a call to the haredi political parties to allow women to run on their lists. The LoNiLoBo group petitioned the High Court of Justice to declare it illegal for a political party to prohibit women from running — but unfortunately they lost, and the religious parties seemed no worse for wear, considering their election results.   The LoNiLoBo group gained traction during the 2013 municipal elections when four haredi women ran for spots on municipal councils in four different cities — Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, Elad and Safed. This time, the women were noticed. They received threats and curses from rabbis and haredi political leaders, and one — Racheli Ibenboim, who ran in Jerusalem on the Bayit Yehudi party list — had to pull out because of the threats. Nevertheless, one of the women, Shira Gergi of Safed, won and became the first haredi woman to sit on a municipal council. In fact, she became the first woman to sit on the Safed council in over 20 years. Since then, the LoNiLoBo group has been growing and expanding, with over 5,000 likes on its Facebook page and coverage on every major news outlet in Israel. The impressive young powerhouse Racheli Ibenboim even quit her job as Executive Director of a major NGO in Israel to work on what she called taking care of her feminist identity. This week, the haredi feminist movement reached a new milestone with the formation of the first ever religious women’s political party. Ruth Colian, a 33-year-old activist and mother of four who had run for a seat in the Petach Tikva municipality, held a press conference on Sunday in which she announced the formation of “U’Bezchutan” — literally, “in their [women’s] merit” — to run in the coming elections. Even the secular feminist movement does not currently have its own party. (There have been three attempts in Israel to advance a Women’s Party in Israel: in 1979, led by former MK Marcia Freedman; in 1992 led by Ruth Reznik, and in 1999 led by Esther Herzog. All times, they failed to meet the electoral threshold, but impacted the elections in different ways ). The formation of a women’s party is a very different political strategy than forming an advocacy group to get religious parties to allow women on the lists. This approach takes the movement for social change outside of the existing systems and suggests that change for women can only come when women have a “room of their own.” If the LoNiLoBo movement says that haredi women have faith in the parties of their religious sector...

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Where Are the Women Leaders in Wartime?

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein famously quipped. Yet, when it comes to the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, the same minds that created the problems seem to be the ones charged with resolving them. And those minds almost exclusively belong to men.Related A group of women have been working to change this, specifically to ensure that women have a seat at the table where strategies are formed and major decisions are made. The group, a coalition of over 30 Israeli and Palestinian NGOs that have been meeting regularly for the past two years, is charged with the mission of implementing UN Resolution 1325 in Israel. Resolution 1325, which affirms the “important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction”, was passed in 2000, and Israel was the very first country to adopt the resolution in 2005 with the addition of Section 6c1 to the Law for Women’s Rights. The Section establishes that all government bodies, especially those involved in peace negotiations, are obligated to ensure appropriate representation for women from diverse population groups when building teams and committees for designing national policies. Since then, another 45 countries have also adopted 1325, some with very successful practices of implementation. In Israel, however, even with Section 6c1, the process of implementation has been slow and at times completely stalled. “Despite the fact that Israel was the first country to set the principles of Resolution 1325 into law, not a single Israeli government since then has formulated an action plan for applying the decision,” said Knesset member Aliza Lavie, head of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, who convened a special joint meeting this week of her committee along with the Subcommittee for Foreign Policy, Publicity, and Policy Awareness of the Foreign and Security Committee headed by MK Ronen Hoffman. “In Operation Protective Edge, for example, we see clearly… that men are deciding, analyzing and mediating the discourse. The time has come to advance and learn from the countries where women have been incorporated in all key areas of security using legislation and incentives.” Indeed, today, the team appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office for negotiations with Egypt does not have a single woman on it (National Security advisor Yossi Cohen, the Prime Minister’s representative Yitzhak Molcho, Security Ministry representative Yoram Cohen, Amos Gilad, General Nimrod). Even Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose official job title in this coalition includes overseeing the country’s diplomatic initiatives and peace talks with the Palestinians, was not invited by the Prime Minister to be on the team. Read more:

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Women in business in Israel: Status report for Internation Women's Day

The Israeli media loves International Women's Day so much that they put women on the covers -- even in the business sections -- and have lots of advertisements for perfume and other things that will "make women in you life feel special". Yediot even blasts the exciting news that "Women are writing Yediot" for this special edition. This, of course, points out the problem with International Women's Day: There are 364 other days of the year when women ought to be writing and being featured for their work.... Perhaps more than a bottle of perfume, women would prefer equal pay for our work and for our writing to be featured regularly as regular staff, not just as a special "women's thing". So here are some sobering statistics about women in business and leadership in honor of Women's Day: * Out of the top 100 publically-traded companies in Israel, only 8 are headed by women (8%). Of the top 500 largest companies, 27 are headed by women (5.5%) * 89% of Boards of public companies have women on them -- sounds like progress? Well, put it this way: 11% of boards are are all-male. In total, only 17% of board members of the top 100 companies are women * Of the top 500 companies, only 22 (5%) have more than a quarter women on the Board of Directors * Only 2% of Boards have women at the helm * The entire financial industry has 19% of women in managerial positions * In Israeli-government owned companies, only 7% of managers are women * In Israeli hospitals, twice as many male doctors than female doctore have senior positions * Of the 19 Israeli billionaires, only one is a woman (Shari Aroson). These billionaires, by the way, own about 60% of the GDP of Israel. * Only 9% of women in Israel are satisfied with their salaries.   Yeah.... forget the perfume. And forget the celebrations.  All these media moguls are patting themselves on the back thinking that they've done a great thing by having women writers and women on the cover one day a year. There are 364 other days a year, and still a long way to go before we can really break out the champaign for Women's Day.  

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When journalists commit sexual harassment

“How to reduce an outstanding professional woman to a sex object.” That should have been the headline of the article in this week’s Forward which Tuvia Tenenbom interviewed Racheli Ibenboim, an up-and-coming Jerusalem politician who happens to be a Ger hassid. It was supposed to be a profile, but the leering interviewer apparently could not contain himself and it turned into an embarrassing and intrusive peep show. Before explaining why this interview represented the slimiest element of voyeuristic journalism bordering on sexual harassment, I would just like to tell you who Racheli Ibenboim is. I feel that need to describe her as a person because Tenenbom, in what was meant to be a profile of her, completely neglected to do so. Racheli Ibenboim is a 28-year-old executive director of the Meir Panim charity organization that, among other things, runs soup kitchens providing over a million meals a year to the needy and homeless. This is a huge operation with a NIS 40 million annual budget. I would have been really interested to hear about her work and her views about issues such as, say, poverty in Israel, social activism, or how she came to be a leader at such a young age. In case this isn’t a big enough task, Ibenboim ran for the Jerusalem municipal council last year, number three on the Jerusalem Home party list. This is particularly impressive considering that in all of Israel there is apparently only one haredi woman currently sitting on a municipal council – Shira Gergi in Safed – and in fact women generally have only around 15% representation on municipal councils and less than 2% representation in positions of leadership in local politics. So even though she did not actually make it into the council, she is clearly on the path of breaking barriers. To wit, the haredi community must know that Ibenboim is a force of nature because she received a series of threats to pressure her to pull out of the race – yes, actual threats to her person and her family, threats of “excommunication” which is a big deal in the religious world. So she pulled out. Can’t say I blame her. Her election campaign would have been an interesting topic to ask her about as well: How does a haredi woman decide to break convention and run for political office? And how do you grapple with real threats like that? What insights do you have about the future of Israel and the dynamics of religious power in politics? I would have loved to hear a real interview exploring some of these issues. These are actual stories. But that’s not what we got. Instead, we had this Tenenbom guy (Who is he anyway? Why do we even allow creeps like this to even be in the same room as powerhouses like Ibenboim?), who could not get past sex. Over and over again he asked her about her sex life, about her wedding night, about “technicalities”. Ew, ew, and ew. Tenenbom,...

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Why a religious feminist mourns Shulamit Aloni

In the previous elections, many religious feminists voted for Meretz. Why? In this op-ed in Tablet Magazine mourning the death of Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni, Elana explores the ways in which feminism crosses the political divide in Israel: "For me, as a religious Israeli feminist, I have found that this ideology, driven by a feminist desire to see and respect the other, transcends other political divides. Demarcations of left-right increasingly seem to fade amid a feminist discourse that lays out a larger vision for Israeli society. To wit, some of the most significant pieces of legislation in today’s Knesset have come from feminist legislators crossing some of those more “traditional” political fault lines. Feminists on the right and the left have found remarkable ways to collaborate on vital issues that their male counterparts do not. I think about Shulamit Aloni and about the ways in which she was so often delegitimized as “leftist” in many of the circles that I have dwelled in, and I can’t help but mourn that loss of opportunity for exploring a shared vision."   Read the rest at Tablet.

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