Will more women get involved in Jerusalem's local politics?

It is increasingly likely that more women will be involved in politics in Jerusalem. There are obstacles, but there is still a chance.

 SAFRA SQUARE: More female representation?  (photo credit: DAVID VAAKNIN/ FLASH 90)
SAFRA SQUARE: More female representation?
(photo credit: DAVID VAAKNIN/ FLASH 90)

These are good times for Jerusalem women, and with city council elections approaching, there is a growing understanding that women cannot continue to be ignored in the local political arena.

One must be careful and not get carried away with premature euphoria – after all, this is not a dramatic or fundamental change in relation to women in the political sphere. We’re not there yet.

However, something from the contemporary discourse, according to which it is neither nice nor appropriate to exclude women, managed to penetrate into the broad circles of local politics. To categorize it with a certain degree of sarcasm: Women are still an ornament in many places, but in some areas, such as local politics, they are now a significant ornament.

About a year ago, an embarrassing situation arose at Safra Square when, at the last minute, someone realized that once again there were too few women on the list of candidates for the annual Yakir Yerushalyim citizenship prize. A race began that ended with a not-quite-revolutionary result: The final list remained with too few women. 

Now the struggle is increasing, with the mayoral and city council elections approaching in less than nine months, and again the question or concern of those preparing for the race arises:

Safra Square (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Safra Square (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Where are the women?

The women are here, of course. They have always been here – but only until recently few understood that it was not right to ignore them for the city council. With the exception of the ultra-Orthodox lists, where this question did not even rise to the level of jokes.

So everyone now understands that it is no longer possible to ignore women. But the truth is that it is not easy to find women who will agree to be candidates on the lists that already exist or on the lists that are being quietly worked on before the start of the city council election campaign.

IN A conference last week sponsored by the Kiverstein Institute, in collaboration with the Van Leer Institute, women from various fields who work in the city participated in a study day to clarify the issue. The aim was to encourage women to join the local political process.

Feminist goals took center stage at the gathering, which was attended by secular women, religious women of various denominations, and Arab women living in east Jerusalem. They work in their respective communities and in the city in a variety of fields and do impressive work. During the conference, they tried to understand what should be done and how to encourage women to be more involved in local politics.

The barriers are known: In politics, you need money, connections, and a lot of motivation. Some power or maybe even aggressiveness wouldn’t hurt, either. But what are the chances for women to enter politics in a conservative city like Jerusalem, where almost half of its residents are haredi Jews of various streams – an area with no representation of women?

Arab women from east Jerusalem who might consider getting involved in municipal politics face a conundrum, since participation in the municipal elections is still considered an act of treason by many.

THIS IS not the first time that the Kiverstein Institute, an organization that promotes feminist activism in Jerusalem, has tried to advance women’s involvement in local politics. During last year’s elections for local councils, the organization encouraged women to join local boards, with encouraging results.

The group sees the entry of about 10 women into the administration of the city’s neighborhood councils as a success in the effort to change the composition of those administrations. Organizers hope that in the coming municipal elections, 30 women will secure seats on the city council. 

The unresolved question is: What is the preferred way to reach this goal? Will a list comprised exclusively of women succeed in this city, even though such a list has never succeeded in entering the Knesset? Is it correct to enter through national parties that want to be represented in the capital? Is there a place to establish a new list that would be based on the existing pluralist lists and expand their ranks?

All these strategies are possible, despite the obstacles. But men could help here, when they realize that it is increasingly likely that more women will be involved in politics. Deputy Mayor Yossi Havilio has stated this very often, and now it’s time that Mayor Moshe Lion set a personal example as well. ❖