Olmert, Netanyahu court female vote

Likud unveils plan to fight underworld crime, corruption.

Kadima and Likud politicians made use of International Women's Day on the campaign trail to tout their record of helping women even as they said there is more work to do. "I hope the day will come when we do not need to celebrate Women's Day because [the gender gap] won't exist," said Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at a political rally in Rishon Lezion on Wednesday evening. If elected he promised to institute new laws to advance the status of women in society, including improved work conditions and child care subsidies for working women. In the short time he has been the acting head of the government, Olmert said, he has already taken steps to help women by appointing a female foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. It's only the second time in the country's history that there has been a female foreign minister, he said. Livni called for full equality for women in Israel. Her party, she said, was a vehicle that would support this by standing for a new order of political priorities. Earlier in the day, at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, party leader Binyamin Netanyahu promised to advance the status of women, but had little to say about the lack of female politicians in top spots in his party. Both the Kadima and Labor parties have two female politicians within the top six spots in the race for the 17th Knesset, whereas the Likud first female candidate is No. 10. Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post that as he only recently became head of the Likud, he had no time to make any changes that could impact the list for the coming Knesset. But when asked if he would promise that women would be placed higher on the next list, he said only, "it's a possibility." With his wife Sara by his side, he told a packed room of female Likud members that he was pleased that 45 percent of the party activists were women. "There's no reason why it can't be 50/50," he said. There is still a lot of work to be done to fix the gender gap between men and women, said Netanyahu. When he was prime minister in the 1990s, he said, he worked to create more employment and health opportunities for women. If elected he promised to support longer school days, a move he said helps working mothers. Netanyahu also said he would support free child care centers for working mothers. Netanyahu earlier unveiled his plan to fight corruption in government and crime in Israel in general by adding 2,000 more police and women into the security services. He also promised to build more prisons and to create new elite units to fight corruption and underworld crime. MK Michael Eitan (Likud), who appeared with Netanyahu, said, "The people that created Kadima and the Sharon family behaved in a corrupt way." "There are good people in Kadima," said Eitan, but the party itself is being manipulated from behind the scenes by corrupt professionals. He specifically attacked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's forum of advisers. Both he and Netanyahu ducked the question of whether they considered Olmert to be corrupt. Eitan added that he worried for the future of Israel should Kadima lead the country. Netanyahu said that the Likud was now a clean party. Kadima said in response that the party had been created in part to fight against the corruption of the Likud. Netanyahu also promised to stop crime families from entering politics, stating he was aware that such attempts were being made. Speaking in Rishon Lezion, Olmert made no mention of the corruption charge, focusing most of his remarks on the party's commitment to helping immigrants. He acknowledged his own Russian background by apologizing for not speaking the language in addressing a crowd made up partially of immigrants. "I don't feel comfortable speaking Russian because I am afraid of making a mistake. I know you. You love to hear Russian, but you have a very musical ear. You want to hear good Russian and I have forgotten the Russian my parents taught me. So I will talk to you in the language that belongs to all of us," he said.