For the last few years, since taking up a more prominent role on the Israeli political landscape, Merav Michaeli has had at least one clear accomplishment – she has managed to get people to think about language and gender.
Hebrew is a language defined by gender. When speaking to a man, you say something one way and when speaking to a woman, another way. When speaking to groups of people – men and women – the common form of speech is to use male terms. Michaeli has pushed back on conformity and uses both female and male terms in her speeches.
Has this made Israel a more equal society? Has it improved women’s rights? Is there less discrimination based on sex?
According to the results of the last election, it doesn’t seem so. There will be just nine women in the coalition and maybe a handful of ministers. Two parties – United Torah Judaism and Shas – have no women in their ranks at all.
Well, at least Michaeli speaks the way she does.
This is relevant because she has completely failed as the leader of Labor. Her party dropped from seven seats to four in the election on Tuesday. The historic Labor that built the state and once ran this country, is now a tiny fringe party made up of a group of people focused on narrow social issues.
An example of this was seen on Thursday night when Michaeli finally agreed to address the party and the public after the election. Did she take any responsibility? You can already guess the answer.
Playing the blame game
Everyone was to blame for the results of the election except her. It wasn’t her veto of a proposal to merge Labor with Meretz that prevented the other left-wing party from crossing the threshold – and it wasn’t her decision to focus on very little substance in her campaign that brought Labor a mere four seats. Instead, it was all Yesh Atid’s fault and, more specifically, the blame belonged to outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
The fact that she ignored requests from both Lapid and Meretz’s Zehava Galon to merge in September meant nothing to the Labor Party leader.
“[Lapid] ran an irresponsible campaign that called for strengthening the biggest party,” Michaeli said. “This is what brought down and eliminated Meretz. This is what almost destroyed the Labor Party as well. Lapid was interviewed two days before the elections and said that the Labor Party has no right to exist, essentially attempting to erase it.”
Even if Meretz and Labor had merged, Benjamin Netanyahu would still have a government, she claimed. That final statement was not exactly true. An analysis of the election results reportedly conducted by the National Unity Party showed that had Meretz and Labor merged and had the Arab parties not split, Netanyahu would not have won the election.
Michaeli’s refusal to accept responsibility was a stark contrast to Meretz leader Zehava Galon, who called the result a “disaster for Meretz, a disaster for the country and a disaster for me.”
Galon took responsibility for the failure to pass the electoral threshold and vowed to fight on.
Michaeli’s speech on Thursday was not ignored within her own party. “Leaders make mistakes. A leader should know how to take responsibility and not blame others,” Labor No. 7 Yaya Fink wrote on Twitter.
Former Labor MK and minister Itzik Shmuli called Michaeli’s speech “a lot of meaningless words intended to cover one simple truth.”
What Michaeli showed is that Labor is no different than much of the Israeli political system in her refusal to be held accountable and to admit her mistakes. With Netanyahu on his way back to the Prime Minister’s Office, there is nothing she can really do to change the outcome. But she can stick to the higher level of principles that she claims her party holds by.
Using language for both genders is nice but that does not win elections. Labor is a skeleton of what it once was and is unlikely to return to its glorious past – and that happened under Michaeli’s stewardship. Taking responsibility is sometimes the only respectable step that is left. She should consider it.