Female combat soldiers in the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion train in urban warfare..
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
At the end of 2015, two Israeli politicians made headlines when they were compelled to resign their positions.
One was a veteran senior minister faced with testimony claiming that he had behaved in a way tainted with sexual harassment. The second – a media figure who became a young and promising Knesset member – was found to have harassed two women sexually and verbally. If we add the former president who is sitting in jail for rape, and the rest of the politicians, officers and celebrities who were forced to pay a heavy public price for sexual harassment, we are liable to get the impression that this is a “state of sinners.”
Actually, the opposite is the case: all these incidents reflect the measure of sensitivity that we have succeeded in establishing here regarding unseemly conduct.
More than being ashamed at individuals involved in sexual harassment, we are proud of a society that adopted the norm that sexual harassment is not something to boast about, but rather a disgrace that prevents a person from holding public office, and makes him liable to face criminal charges.
It is hard to believe that this attitude is present precisely in the intransigent Middle East; hard to believe that a militaristic, chauvinistic state whose army and generals, up to the chief of staff, saw female soldiers as sex objects 50 years ago – precisely this state has become a state that does not back down regarding anyone, no matter how highly placed, regarding harassment of women, and which has become a “light unto the nations” in everything connected to the status of women. The Clinton- Lewinsky incident would not have gone by the board here in Israel, because here someone who uses the power of his office to abuse someone sexually spends years behind bars, and certainly does not continue their political career. Even our big friend can learn something from little Israel. Suddenly, without even noticing it, we have become a ground-breaking superpower.
Suddenly, Israel is not just a producer of medicines, agricultural technological developments, leading high-tech companies, scientific discoveries and advanced methods of defense. Today Israel is also a superpower of the status of women, creating and exporting some of the most advanced ideas in the world about what is allowed and what is forbidden, a consensus regarding new limits in relation to women, which define the basic parameters of a healthy society.
It isn’t only in the war against sexual harassment that this feminine breakthrough is expressed in Israel: the number of female Knesset members is going up, and at an all-time high. Women hold the positions of head of the Bank of Israel and president of the Supreme Court.
They hold positions of power in banks, are directors of huge firms and their centrality is growing in the business world as well as in the public arena. In the IDF, female soldiers and officers can take on any position without discrimination, and a woman has reached the rank of general for the first time. And what about the media? The Israeli citizen watching the news will see that it is women who are presenting and directing the main broadcasts and determining the public agenda, no less than the men alongside them.
This is a good beginning, but there are more challenges before us: from the promotion of women in industry to equality of opportunity and equal pay; from the encouragement and reinforcement of female representation in the public sphere to the struggle against taking advantage of women and oppressing them, within the general public and within sectors of the population in which oppression of women is deeply rooted, where our lifelines have special significance in strengthening these women and helping them to stand up for their rights.
There are many partners in the glorious and successful struggle for the status of women in Israel. Not just women’s organizations in Israel, headed by the largest of them – WIZO – and not just the brave women in public positions, groundbreaking women in the media, and the other strong women in the forefront of society.
Our friends and partners abroad have a part in these achievements, because they are a devoted, brave, persistent, constant and moving army, a world-embracing steel network of involved, caring friends willing to act and change the world.
WIZO members throughout the world support and strengthen us throughout the year, raise funds and enable us to reach all sectors of Israel’s population, serving as an active array of Israel advocates in the face of the anti-Israeli sentiment that breaks through on occasion, and enable the existence of a vibrant, living, breathing organization always looking for the next peak.
This week the World WIZO Enlarged General Meeting in Tel Aviv, with the theme “Women Taking the Lead,” will deal with the female leadership that will change social reality in Israel. Seven hundred women, from the Jewish communal leadership in 40 countries worldwide, will attend to consolidate policy for the coming years. They, and every one of our thousands of members across the globe, can feel that they are full partners in the success and realization of a common vision, and it is to them that I would like to say, “My friends, we are on the right path.”The writer is chairperson of the World WIZO Executive.