Women in politics

Israel needs to strive much more to create a fully equal society between men and women.

Miri Regev (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Miri Regev
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Despite attempts to portray Israel as a progressive country with equal rights and opportunity for all, we still have a way to go to make that a reality.
Sure, we can host awesome gay pride events and tout the first Druze navigator or Arab chairman of a bank as examples of how far we’ve come, but on a more basic level – that of male Israelis and female Israelis – we’re still lagging far behind in equality.
Data released in 2018 by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that in the past two decades, the number of female Knesset members almost quadrupled, rising from nine to 34 female parliamentarians and bringing Israel in line with the OECD average of 28%.
The IDI also revealed that female MKs are more productive legislators: they had a 37% higher success rate of having their bills passed into law in Israel’s 20th Knesset (2015-2018) than their male counterparts.
However, the short-lived 21st Knesset had fewer female MKs than the 20th Knesset, with only 29 women voted in.
According to a Finance Ministry salary report issued for 2017, men earn more than women by 15% in government ministries, by 28% in the health care sector, 21% in defense and 9% in education. According to Central Bureau of Statistics data, men out earn women by 31% in Israel as a whole.
Clearly, although not the worst example of gender discrepancy by any means, Israel needs to strive much more to create a fully equal society between men and women. That’s why the outrageous statement last week by prominent National-Religious leader Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is such an affront to such efforts.
Aviner raised a storm when he told KAN Radio that a woman should not be allowed to head a religious political party.
“It’s not okay, the complicated whirlwind of politics is not the arena for the female role,” said Aviner. He was responding to the prospect on whether Ayelet Shaked could head the Union of Right-Wing Parties. He and other religious leaders had already written a letter stating that the head of any right-wing party should be a “God-fearing person,” and was seen as an attempt by the rabbis to prevent the reported possibility of Shaked heading the URP.
Aviner doubled down on the letter in his radio interview to include women who were “God-fearing.” He also said that women should not give Torah lessons to men, and stood by a recent ruling that men should not attend Torah lessons by prominent religious journalist Sivan Rahav-Meir since doing so was “immodest,” the Post’s Jeremy Sharon reported.
Aviner’s comments were immediately and justly condemned across the political spectrum.
Naftali Bennett, Shaked’s former partner in the New Right Party, said “these comments represent a minuscule percentage of the religious Zionist community and cause a desecration of God’s name. Every initiative I did in my life I did with talented women leaders – in hi-tech, in the public realm, and in politics. The place of women in politics, and all aspects of society, is not in doubt.”
Blue and White co-leader Yair Lapid responded to Aviner that “religious and chauvinistic fanatics should not be involved in politics,” while Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer said Aviner’s comments reflected a “severe phenomenon of radicalization and the deterioration toward a benighted state of Jewish law.”
But it was Shaked herself who most succinctly put Aviner in his place outside the tent of modern-thinking Israelis. Hiking in the Canadian Rockies, the former justice minister tweeted an outdoorsy photo of herself and wrote: “Just a reminder that a woman can do anything: travel, be a mother, be a party leader, and a mayor, and a CEO of a company and also a head of state.”
Just because a woman is not allowed to participate as a full member of an Orthodox congregation to be counted as part of a minyan is no reason to exclude women from the political sphere of religious parties.
We recommend that Aviner and rabbis who think like him begin efforts to be more inclusive, lest they find themselves becoming totally marginalized by 50% of their potential voting bloc.