It’s my party

Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur is heading up a new party made up almost exclusively of women.

Naomi Tsur 370 (photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
Naomi Tsur 370
(photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
No matter what the results are on October 22, the surprise of the Jerusalem municipal elections has undoubtedly been the party headed by departing Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur – a bold, giant step forward in women’s participation in the political arena.
Tsur, who says she realized a few weeks ago that Mayor Nir Barkat was not going to offer her a realistic position in his party, took up the gauntlet and decided to create a party of her own, consisting almost exclusively of women.
At the moment, about a month before Election Day, it is not clear what her chances are of breaking through, but one thing is certain: Her party, Ometz Lev (Bravery of the Heart), is a welcome change.
Tsur built her party on anything but “more of the same,” gathering around her such unprecedented members as Ethiopian immigrant Yaffa Sahelo – the first woman of Ethiopian origin to run for city council – and Massada Porat, the only haredi woman who has not caved in to threats warning her not to take part in the elections.
Asked what the main issue behind her decision was, Tsur says she felt it was her responsibility to continue what she had started during her stint on the city council, namely her agenda of sustainability for the city.
“It’s not only the environment; it’s our overall attitude about the needs of this city. It is certainly not a personal issue; I don’t need this for myself,” she asserts. “I looked at all the other parties and didn’t find those points, so what could I do? Just leave and abandon what I believe is important for Jerusalem? It’s about a sustainable city – environment, preservation – but also youth at risk and women’s leadership. And I don’t mean just avoiding the exclusion of women; that’s not enough anymore. I’m talking about women in leadership roles.”
She adds that what ultimately led her to make the decision was the large number of people who called and asked her who would take care of those issues if she decided not to continue. She says it made her feel that she had a duty to fulfill.
“What could be more natural than to have a party of women to represent women’s causes and issues on the city council?” asks Edna Friedman, No. 2 on the list.
Friedman, a teacher at one of the prestigious state religious schools in the city, had been on the Bayit Yehudi list on the city council.
Despite the party’s regulation ensuring that the third seat goes to a woman, her seat was jeopardized by the next person on the list, Herzl Yeheskel, who insisted that there be a rotation after the first twoand- a-half years on the council. Friedman refused to give up her seat, arguing that she was representing a large public that had voted for her and sent her to the council, and Yeheskel remained out of the council.
“At present, we are eight women on the council,” says Friedman.
“Judging by most of the forecasts for these elections, we will probably be much fewer. The first woman on Moshe Lion’s list is in fifth place; in fourth place is Hitorerut and in third is Meretz, to say nothing of the haredi parties. So the question is not, ‘Why should we run a women’s party?’ but rather, ‘How come nobody thought of it before?’” Probably the greatest asset of the new party is that it brings together women – and one man – from very different backgrounds.
Tsur is a veteran of environmental and green issues, first as director of the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel, and since 2008 as deputy mayor in charge of preservation, planning and environmental affairs. Born in Bristol, England, she made aliya in 1966 and was among the most adamant activists against the Safdie Plan – which aimed to build thousands of housing units on the green lungs of Jerusalem – and for the preservation of Gazelle Valley. She was among the first to raise awareness about the need to recycle and recently led the international project to include Jerusalem in the Green Pilgrimage Cities, which held its first conference here last year.
Friedman has a master’s degree in chemistry – which she teaches – and for the past five years has been president of the Jerusalem Women’s Council, which she founded. She also launched several other initiatives aimed at promoting women’s economic independence, such as the Women Lead Tourism (in Jerusalem) project, which promotes local cultural venues for tourists. The women who run that project received special training through the Women’s Forum, which Friedman also launched and runs.
Besides experienced politicians like Tsur and Friedman, the party brings new faces like Sahelo and Porat to the fore. Tsur also included an Arab resident in the party, but she had to bow out due to the serious threats she received.
Sahelo made aliya from Ethiopia through Sudan in 1984. A mother of seven, she lives in Neveh Ya’acov and is a well-known activist in the Ethiopian community. One of her major achievements has been to create a synagogue for the Ethiopian community in her neighborhood, which took her 13 years to implement and now enables its members to observe and preserve their traditions.
Another well-known Jerusalem figure who has joined Tsur’s party is Debbie Ben-Ami. She is the founder of the local Hebrew magazine Yerushalmi and the Young Jerusalemites Forum, a group that provides information and tips for the city’s young generation, such as entertainment and job opportunities. Ben-Ami was the driving force behind the Yerushalmi Card, which entitles its holders to discounts at a wide assortment of venues. She was elected to the board of the World Zionist Organization for her contribution to Zionist education here and abroad.
Porat, the first haredi woman to take an active part in politics, is a journalist who lives in Har Homa. With a husband who is a yeshiva student, she adds yet another angle to Tsur’s ideology of bringing all sectors of society to the city council.
“I don’t want to preach about my ideas,” says Tsur. “I believe that the right thing to do is simply to do it.”