Haredi woman running in Labor aims for revolution

“In politics, anything can happen,” says Michal Zernowitski, the first-ever ultra-orthodox candidate to run with the Labor party.

Michal Zernowitski, the first haredi candidate to run with the Labor party (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michal Zernowitski, the first haredi candidate to run with the Labor party
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When one thinks of Labor MKs, one expects them to be part of the secular establishment.
That is why the election of Michal Zernowitski to a realistic slot on the crowded Labor list in the February 11 primary would be such a statement for the party.
Zernowitski, 37, is the first ever haredi (ultra-Orthodox) to run for Knesset with Labor. But Labor currently has a modern Orthodox MK in Revital Swid, and for many years had kippa-wearing MK Avraham Burg.
“Labor is actually the most varied party in Israel,” Zernowitski said. “It is a party of the entire nation. We can have haredim, secular and traditional candidates and Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv working all together.”
Zernowitski was born and raised in Bnei Brak and lives in Elad. She is a graduate of the Beit Yaakov school system and has a degree in computer science from Machon Tal, the women’s division of the Jerusalem College of Technology, which helped her enter hi-tech.
She was brought into Labor Party politics by MK Amir Peretz but now crosses camps in the party. She said she hopes to follow what she believes is a trend started by the election of the non-haredi Aliza Bloch as Beit Shemesh mayor against a haredi candidate with the support of 25% of the city’s haredim.
“Big portions among the haredim want to integrate and don’t think haredi parties represent them,” she said. “Haredim in Israeli society are going through a revolution, integrating in society, especially young people.”
Labor has reserved slots for three women in its top 10, which are expected to go to current MKs Shelly Yacimovich, Merav Michaeli and Stav Shaffir. But there are three more slots reserved for women in the next 11 slots, which are wide open.
“In politics, anything can happen,” she said. “I am trying to meet as many people as possible and being received well.
Zernowitski registered hundreds of haredim and other supporters to the party. To gain new supporters over the past week, Zernowitski has campaigned in Jerusalem, Rishon Lezion, Jaffa, Nahariya, Kibbutz Givat Haim, south of Hadera and Kibbutz Yifat in the Jezreel Valley Regional Council.
Asked how many seats she thought Labor would win, she said it would depend on whether parties on the Center-Left run together.
“I hope parties unite,” she said. “If everyone runs separate, it won’t be good to anyone. It can be 10 seats for one party, 10 for another and 10 for another, and Israeli society will suffer.”
Regardless of whether that happens, Zernowitski believes her election to a slot on the Labor list will bring the party new voters.
“If I am high up, I can bring surprising voices and break a stigma,” she said.