Short on representation, political parties rush to celebrate Women’s Day

Two weeks ahead of elections, candidates pledge change while Labor leader Merav Michaeli remains the only woman chairing a political party.

MERAV MICHAELI prepares to don a mask at a Labor Party polling station in Tel Aviv on January 24. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
MERAV MICHAELI prepares to don a mask at a Labor Party polling station in Tel Aviv on January 24.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Out of the 12 parties with a realistic chance of clinching parliament seats in Israel’s March 24 general elections, a woman chairs only one. Yet despite this discouraging fact, or perhaps because of it, Israel’s various candidates and political hopefuls hurried to celebrate and commemorate International Women’s Day on Monday, holding a string of special events and rallies.
Yesh Atid, headed by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and currently expected to be the largest party in the bloc opposed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after the elections, held a special “women’s meeting.”
Hosted by Lapid’s wife, Lihi, the online get-together featured the party’s female MKs and candidates, who introduced their legislative achievements in promoting gender equality in past parliaments while outlining their agenda for the future.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, there are political parties still today who ban women from running on their ticket. Netanyahu calls them his ‘natural partners,’” Lapid said in his opening remarks, referring to the ultra-Orthodox parties, before vacating the stage “for those who really matter today.”
Ayelet Shaked, second in command of the right-wing Yamina party, released a video skewering Netanyahu for his latest comments after the prime minister viciously mocked her.
Last week, an unedited clip of Shaked recording a song as part of an International Women’s Day initiative to raise awareness for violence against women, was leaked. Netanyahu and others have since ridiculed her online repeatedly for her vocals.
Yamina’s competitor for anti-Netanyahu right-wing votes, New Hope, held a special “women’s march of hope and unity” in Jerusalem. The party’s female candidates for the Knesset, led by No. 2 on the list Yifat Shasha-Biton, toured the streets of the capital, met with residents and answered their questions.
“I hope they can be trusted, I hope it’s not just something they do once a year and then forget about,” Einat, a Jerusalemite, told The Media Line of the various promises made by politicians on Monday.
Yael, a teenager who attended the Jerusalem march, was also skeptical. “If everyone is so pro-women, why are all the party leaders men? How does that happen again and again?”
Heading into the home stretch of its fourth election in two years, Israel’s parliamentary female representation leaves much to be desired.
In Netanyahu’s Likud party, expected to garner close to 30 seats, three female candidates can be found in the first 10 slots, and only four in the top 20. Lapid’s Yesh Atid boasts three women in its top 5 spots, and eight in the first 20, approximately the number of seats projected for the party in the latest polls.
While other parties, such as Yamina, New Hope, Yisrael Beitenu and the Joint List, have slotted three or four female candidates in their lists’ top 10 seats, the nation’s only party chaired by a woman, Merav Michaeli’s Labor, has put in place explicit rules ensuring equal representation.
After holding party primaries last month, Labor reshuffled its list using the “zipper system,” alternating between men and women.
“We will lead the Pink-Collar Revolution to pull Israel out of the coronavirus crisis,” Michaeli said in a statement to The Media Line, accusing Netanyahu of leaving women behind during the past year’s struggles.
“Seventy percent of all those fired are women. Women are more exposed than ever before to domestic and sexual violence,” she said.
“We will invest in teachers, nurses, social workers, psychologists in the public service, kindergarten teachers,” she promised. “Labor will give them the status, the terms and the pay needed so that women finally get the equality they deserve.”
Holding a Zoom Bat Mitzvah event for hundreds of girls who could not celebrate their special day this year due to the pandemic restrictions, Michaeli spoke with leading female artists and activists in Israel about the uphill battle women face.
The party competing with Labor for the few remaining left-wing voters, Meretz, also offers an equal list of male and female candidates. The veteran, fast-shrinking party, which in recent polls has failed to earn enough seats to enter parliament, held its own International Women’s Day event Monday evening.
“Everyone is talking about women’s rights today, but we’ve been working hard at it for 30 years,” former party chair and current second-in-command Tamar Zandberg said, listing Meretz’s track record, which includes passing bills cementing equal pay and assistance to sexual assault victims.
“Not just when it’s trendy, or as a campaign slogan, or for some international day, but every day. Every day is Women’s Day.”