Rivlin hints that a female president may not be too far down the line

On Tuesday, when addressing the Women in Diplomacy Network (WDN), President Reuven Rivlin hinted that a female president might not be all that far down the line.

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September 10, 2019 16:45
Rivlin hints that a female president may not be too far down the line

President Reuven Rivlin says he will do all in his power to prevent a third election. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 Israel has not had a female prime minister since April 1974, when Golda Meir, the country’s first – and so far, the only – female prime minister resigned in the wake of the fatal errors of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War.

In 2008, Tzipi Livni almost became Israel’s second female prime minister when tasked by president Shimon Peres to form a government; but her efforts failed, and she had no option but to return her mandate.
On Tuesday, when addressing the Women in Diplomacy Network (WDN), President Reuven Rivlin hinted that a female president might not be all that far down the line.


When asked by one of the women present whether he could foresee a female president of Israel, Rivlin saw no reason why not. Eventually, as women occupy more leadership positions in public life, there will be a female president, he predicted, though from his experience, this is not a particularly popular ambition.


He often visits schools, he said, and asks students what they want to be when they grow up. He had no recollection of any girl saying that she wants to be the president of Israel.


The Women in Diplomacy Network, which exists in several countries, was first floated to Israel in 2012, but didn’t really take wing till 2017.


Meirav Ellon Shahar of the Foreign Ministry, who moderated the meeting at the President’s Residence, said that the WDN gives foreign diplomats stationed in Israel an opportunity to meet with Israeli diplomats to exchange ideas on global issues and see where women can make a difference. It also gives the foreign diplomats many opportunities to meet with prominent Israeli women from a variety of professional backgrounds, and thus develop a better understanding of what Israel is all about.


Ellon Shahar was pleased to report that there are many women serving in senior positions in the Foreign Ministry.


She did not say how many of these women are serving as ambassadors, but according to the Foreign Ministry website, there are 21 female ambassadors accredited to Israel, with less than a handful who are non-residents.


There are also women who are deputy chiefs of mission and diplomats of lower rank, as well as military, cultural and economic attaches who are women.


Five of Rivlin’s most senior advisers, including his chief of staff Rivka Ravitz – who, on Sunday, gave birth to her 12th child – are women. Three of them – Shuli Davidovich, who is on loan from the Foreign Ministry where she has worked for 24 years in Israel and abroad and is currently Rivlin’s senior foreign affairs adviser; Roni Eilon, who is Rivlin’s senior consultant and head of policy and strategy; and Udit Corinaldi-Sirkis, who is the president’s legal adviser – stayed behind after Rivlin had left the hall to an international chorus of “Happy Birthday” to field questions posed by WDN members.


IN HIS address to the group, Rivlin queried how many female diplomats there were in the world 50 years ago, and estimated that there were perhaps a thousand, whereas the main hall of the President’s Residence was packed – albeit with the addition of some half dozen male diplomats who came along for the ride.


Had he gone further back in time, Rivlin might have discovered that it was not until 1923 that a woman was first appointed as an ambassador. Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai was appointed as the Soviet ambassador to Norway, and was subsequently ambassador to Mexico and Sweden. She was also a member of the Soviet delegation to the League of Nations, but after that, it was a slow haul for women entering the foreign service. Regardless of how conscientious they were, they could rise in rank, only to a certain level. Happily, that has changed in most countries.


“Women have fought and continue to fight for the right to represent their countries as diplomats,” said Rivlin. “The fight for equality was, and still is, a just cause... You are proof of its success. In your professional lives, you bring greater diversity, a different perspective and fresh thinking to the world of foreign policy conflict resolution and diplomacy. In our complex and challenging world, that has never been more important. It is not just for women to fight for gender equality. We must all demand it and work towards it.”


Rivlin added that he could not imagine history without the many great and courageous women who did not wait for any man’s approval in order to fulfill their calling and change the world.


In this context, he singled out Golda Meir, who, he said, served as an early role model. In fact, he noted, David Ben-Gurion referred to Meir as the only man in his government.


Rivlin said that Meir, in her capacity as foreign minister, had developed relations with the United States, and added that she was also one of the first women in the world to fill the role of prime minister.


DESPITE THE fact that there yet to be a female successor to Meir as prime minister – though Tzipi Livni was the second female foreign minister – Rivlin voiced pride in the fact that women in Israel have been or are president of the Supreme Court, governor of the Bank of Israel, government ministers and party leaders. There have also been a female general in the IDF, a Nobel Prize laurete and female CEOs of major companies. Rivlin neglected to mention that there had also been a female state comptroller.


Despite all the progress made by women in breaking through the glass ceiling, Rivlin said that more must be done to bring Arab and ultra-Orthodox women into the workforce and to positions of leadership. He also wanted to see more female ministers and MKs, and urged all Israeli women to make their voices heard in next Tuesday’s Knesset elections. He also encouraged them to seek elected office and positions of influence in the future, especially in decision-making on conflict resolution, foreign policy and security.


When German Ambassador to Israel Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer asked whether the call for more women in diplomacy was only a gender equality matter or whether he thought that women really think differently, Rivlin replied that he didn’t see any real difference in how women and men think, with the possible exception that women are more sensitive.


Roni Eilon, Rivlin’s strategic adviser, took this a step further after he had left the hall and pointed out that a political party such as Blue and White – which has no women at the top, but four men, three of whom are former IDF chiefs of staff – are unlikely to think differently as civilians than when they were in the army. Even though there are more women in the army today than in previous years, few rise to elite positions, so their mindsets are not militaristic. If given a seat at the table, they would provide a vital balance – or more importantly, they would give peace negotiations with the Palestinians a different strategic impact.


Corinaldi-Sirkis observed that Israel is a country in which women do very well in the legal profession, rising more than once to the top and holding senior positions in the legal departments of all government ministries. This is one area in which women even outdo men. She attributed this to the need by women jurists to prove themselves, and in doing so, they develop a high degree of professionalism, which enables them to continue advancing in their careers.


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