'Embarrassing' photo of Merkel at all-male event inspires feminists
Women business leaders are organizing an alternative photo with a Merkel cut-out.
By LAHAV HARKOVUpdated: OCTOBER 7, 2018 14:50
A photograph of German Chancellor Angela Merkel among an all-male group of Israeli and German businessmen, and Merkel’s comment on the matter, has sparked a firestorm of conversation and criticism in Israel.The photo was taken during Merkel's visit to Israel last week, in a meeting with business leaders of the future organized by the Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Ministry, Economy Ministry, and Israel Export Institute. It shows Merkel, wearing fuchsia, standing in the middle of a mass of men in dark suits.In a video from the event, Merkel says in German that “it would be nice if the next time there would be women. It appears to be a manly domain.”Merkel then added that “it is not criticism. You are all welcome. It is just encouragement.”In response, several organizations representing and promoting women in business have organized an event in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Wednesday, in which they will take a photo with a cut-out of Merkel. Some of the men at the original event have agreed to participate, as well.Nava Swersky Sofer, co-chairwoman of Directors Leading Change, an organization of women on the boards of public or government-owned companies committed to gender equality, is one of the people behind the upcoming event.“The photo and video mostly made me feel embarrassed,” she said Sunday. “It’s embarrassing as a woman in the tech world and business leadership, but it’s also embarrassing to me as an Israeli.”AdvertisementThe “strong visual” of the photo is what brought on a wave of action that she said surprised her, leading up to the alternative photo event, she added.Swersky Sofer often lectures abroad on the Israeli technology industry, and said she’s “always a little embarrassed when it comes to the question of women,” which may be why the photo “touched a nerve with so many of us.”“The idea is to create a visual image as strong as the one on Thursday, that would give a more balanced picture of the ‘future leadership of Israel,’ as the event was titled,” she explained.Swersky Sofer also pointed out that the 12 German men in the event were all male, as well, but added that Israelis “can’t be responsible for that, but we have to be responsible for ourselves; 51% of the population can’t be left out of the photo. I’m certain there was no ill intention in the way this was brought together, but we shouldn’t have an event where it’s okay to have a room full of middle-aged men,” she said.The event organizers hope to send the new photo to Merkel, and even organize a meeting of female Israeli business leaders with the German chancellor.The Foreign Ministry apologized following the uproar, saying the companies selected to take part in the meeting “lead in innovation from Israel and Germany and do business between Israel and Germany. During the organizations, we did not notice the problem of the lack of women among the representatives. We are sorry for it and are committed to do the best we can together with the other partners to prevent such cases in the future and ensure appropriate representation of women.”In addition, the Foreign Ministry said businesswomen took part in other events with Merkel.The Israel Export Institute said that they recommended companies for the event, but not specific representatives.Swersky Sofer said it is important for people who have an influence to take responsibility on the issue of female representation.In her own experience, such as when she was a leader of a program encouraging college graduates to become entrepreneurs, Swersky Sofer said she made sure there were women among them, and that there was no compromise on standards: “We didn’t accept candidates [of either gender] unless they were suitable and excellent.”“One has to have an awareness that there’s a bias. It won’t be corrected unless we actively do something about it,” she said.