Equal Numbers

There is room to be concerned that Israel might be moving backwards when it comes to the participation of women in politics and government.

February 23, 2019 20:33
3 minute read.
Benny Gantz (L) and Yair Lapid (R) anounce the Blue and White Party

Moshe 'Bogie' Ayalon (L), Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi anounce the Blue and White Party. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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In June 2016, after joining the coalition and being appointed defense minister, Avigdor Liberman resigned as a member of Knesset and was replaced by Julia Malinowski. This brought the number of female MKs to 33, a record for the State of Israel when it comes to female representation in parliament.

The world paid attention. In 2015, after the last elections, CNN did a story on female representation, noting that out of the 10 parties in the outgoing Knesset, only two – the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism – did not have women on their lists.

While this has been a positive development, there is room to be concerned that Israel might be moving backwards when it comes to the participation of women in politics and government. The Blue and White Party – created after the merger between Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid – has only two women in the top 10 spots on its list.

Before the parties merged, women were more prominent on both party lists. The top 10 of the Yesh Atid list, unveiled last week, contained four women. And the top 10 of Gantz’s party contained three women. The merger of the two male-heavy parties, and the addition of Gabi Ashkenazi to the list – the third former IDF chief of staff in Blue and White – left the party with fewer women in high-ranking positions.

It is important to point out that the Blue and White Party is far from being the worst offender in Israeli politics. Likud also has only two women in its top 10 spots, and just three in the first 20 spots on its list. By contrast, Blue and White has six women in its top 20.

“It’s very sad that a party that wants to be an alternative to the government doesn’t think it needs a woman in its top five,” Galit Wolloch, chairwoman of the Na’amat women’s organization, told The Jerusalem Post’s Amy Spiro on Thursday. “There are enough talented and qualified women who don’t happen to be IDF generals. It’s not a matter of Right or Left, it’s a matter of values and principles.”

We agree, and while there are some lists that demonstrated gender equality – Labor has four women in its top 10 spots and the New Right Party has five women in its top 10 seats – the fact that the two parties going to head-to-head in these elections do not, is concerning.

Michal Gera-Margaliot, director of the Israel Women’s Network, warned that this situation could mean see fewer women enter the Knesset after elections on April 9.

“The chance to grow the number of women in the Knesset was low even before they were pushed down on the lists,” she said. “Now the situation is even worse.”

This is unfortunate for a country that prides itself in having had a female prime minister – Golda Meir – in the 1970s. Israel sadly seems like it might be moving backwards in terms of equal and fair representation.

One way to rectify the situation, would be by banning parties that discriminate against women, like Shas and UTJ, thereby forcing them to add women to their lists. The Knesset is an institution that should promote democracy.

Gender equality is one of the tenets that does that. Another way to change this is for people to make sure their voices are heard on April 9.

One way to potentially do that is to vote for parties with female representation. Another way is to demand already now that no matter who wins, the next prime minister needs to promise that he will appoint an equal number of women ministers as he appoints male ministers.

Israel is often looked at as a role model for the world in being the only democracy in the Middle East, but also for creating a unique culture of innovation that exists in the world’s only Jewish state.

Having proper and equal female participation should be part of Israel’s story. These elections can be an opportunity to make sure that message is heard loud and clear by the country’s political leaders.

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