Politics: A woman with three hats

As deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Gila Gamliel is tasked with addressing the needs of students, youth and women.

Gila Gamliel 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file[)
Gila Gamliel 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file[)
Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel could compare notes with the Children of Israel – after a meteoric rise to become one of the youngest female MKs at 29, she found herself in the political wilderness after losing her Knesset seat in 2006. In the last elections, Gamliel returned to the Knesset on the wave of the Likud’s success, but she is certain that her period in the wilderness helped her become a stronger player within her party and a successful but more measured political force than she was as a freshman parliamentarian.
“Being outside of the political institution helped me to make the distinction between what is important and what is secondary,” Gamliel told The Jerusalem Post in the Tel Aviv office that houses her deputy ministry, tasked with addressing the needs of students, youth and women.
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“I gained greater understanding regarding the importance of the feeling of public service, and it put everything into perspective. I wish that every MK had the opportunity to gain a perspective outside and then return to politics. I learned a lot – not to focus on an agenda in management, not to say everything that I think to everyone. Today I am more focused, more professional. I am advancing a clear agenda, more correctly following a line. I am a public servant – that is exactly how I see my service, and that is what is for now.”
Her election to the 16th Knesset, she said, “gave me political experience, which is the most valuable asset. I have been in the political system for 12 years. In contrast, Limor [Livnat] and Tzipi [Livni] began after the age of 40, so to be 36 with 12 years of [political] experience is really a blessing.”
Gamliel was anything but lackadaisical during her three years outside the Knesset. She earned two law degrees – bringing her total degree count to four – met her husband, got married and by the time she took her oath as an MK in 2008, was well on her way to becoming one of the country’s most visible working mothers.
“There are over 110,000 registered Likud voters who we have to campaign for during the primaries. There is a constant struggle at home both to be a mother and a partner, and to combine it with a career. In terms of the Knesset and government, and political and international activity, you need to know how to raise resources, to lead an election campaign, to remain in contact with the fieldworkers. Thus far, I think a model exists to balance everything.”
Gamliel said that she compensates for her nearly impossible schedule by sleeping only four to five hours a night, but that her most important way to make sure that she stays grounded in her family life is to keep Shabbat. “Shabbat is really devoted only to my family,” Gamliel explained. “During the week as well, I receive a lot of help from my extended family. Otherwise, I doubt that any of this would have been possible.”
She is now trying to apply her experiences to her efforts as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. She was offered the unusual position by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and emphasized that it was he who recognized the need to prioritize the social and economic challenges facing the three groups she represents.
“This is the first time that there is someone in the government who is supposed to address these issues,” said Gamliel, adding that she wanted to see her position lead to the establishment of two separate ministries – one for students and youth, and the second for women’s issues.
“I hope to show that there is enough work – and there is – to justify the establishment of the ministries,” she said.
Gamliel freely draws upon her own experiences to help her find issues facing the groups that her office represents. After being pregnant with her daughter, Tahel, while she was completing her second law degree, Gamliel decided that it was high time to anchor in law the rights of pregnant students. She plans on advancing a proposal that would mandate that students be allowed to take maternity leave, as well as recognizing absences that occur as a result of fertility treatments or bed rest during high-risk pregnancies.
“We must establish a viable platform to combine parenthood and higher education,” said Gamliel, noting that currently, each college and university can determine its own procedures in such situations. Although the majority of students studying for degrees up to the level of doctorate in Israel are women, she added, only 10% of post-doctoral students are female. This drop-off, she believes, is partially due to the challenges of combining employment, education and motherhood.
Gamliel is also working to improve the representation of women in public services. While 43 percent of government agencies have women in top administrative positions, the number who lead public companies is “minimal – it is very upsetting data.”
To combat that, she is trying to raise awareness that qualified female candidates exist by creating a database where qualified candidates can present their resumés, and pushing legislation that would mandate greater equality in hiring practices.
Gamliel has partnered with representatives from the public and private sectors, including the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and the Justice Ministry, to prepare such legislation, which she said is “in it advanced stages.” She is also working to organize a National Women’s Council that will rotate among cities, with the first meeting set to be held in Rishon Lezion.
Gamliel said that her fellow female MKs largely back her endeavors.
“Today we are 22 women in the Knesset, and the majority cooperate on the issue of advancing women. On that subject, there is no more coalition and opposition.”
Her female colleagues, she said “are all ambitious. People are familiar with the majority of the female MKs, something that cannot be said for most MKs.”
The current crop of women parliamentarians, she said, is notable because of the number of younger women who are still raising children while pursuing their political careers.
“It is nice to see women who manage to combine career and parenthood, because in the past, most women came to politics after they finished raising their children.”
Despite her activity in support of women, Gamliel’s first legislative victory was an achievement for her second “ministry.”
In the summer session, she saw the Knesset pass her bill that will guarantee a free year of academic studies at any periphery or West Bank college for students who have completed IDF or national service.
That bill was the first realization of the strategic plan for youth affairs that Gamliel prepared for Netanyahu.
“The solution is to turn youth into a national resource so that they are an asset and not a economic burden,” she explained. “We must help our youth acquire the housing and the education that they need. I have already received the budget for a pilot program that would give 1,000 combat soldiers who want to live in the Negev and Galilee the land to build their houses. Youth in Israel devote their best years to the army, and they need to see how the government helps them afterward – that is the only way that they can be involved and integrated into society.”
Her work to advance the younger generation is not limited to Israel. Gamliel was chosen to lead the youth forum at the famed Davos Conference, and will also advise French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the incoming head of the G-8, on strategies for advancing youth on a worldwide level.
The message, she said, is similar: “that government organizations, nongovernmental organizations and economic organizations must cooperate to create a platform for success.”