The Human Spirit: Stop Pnina-bashing

barbara sofer 88 (photo credit: )
barbara sofer 88
(photo credit: )
This paper ran not one, but two columns mocking newly installed Knesset member Pnina Rosenblum, last Friday. Both by men. Calev Ben-David used dubious humor to poke fun at Rosenblum. Anshel Pfeffer wrapped his dismissive portrait in an attack on the media that have extensively covered her career and personal life. He castigated our 19th woman Knesset member as a "trash celebrity" and a "second-rate model." Yes, I know, feminists have no sense of humor. I can't speak for all women, but this one doesn't find the Pnina-bashing funny. Although taking public office makes you fair game for journalistic inquiry, "fair" isn't the operative mode when it comes to Rosenblum. What makes two distinguished columnists take such liberties as describing the shape of a Knesset member's legs or comparing a newly minted representative of the State of Israel to mad Caligula's horse? Let's look at what they and other media mavens feel free to attack: She doesn't have a university degree. Although several of our legislators have been plucked for Knesset duty from distinguished careers as college professors, we've had plenty of others who have served this country without the benefit of higher education. Ironically, Rosenblum is a popular lecturer at academic and business economic forums. She comes to the Knesset from running a successful cosmetics business. Although many of our Knesset members who vote on economic policy have spent their working lives in public-sector jobs are experienced at spending our tax money on extravagant foreign trips, expensive spin doctors and lavish office decorators, Rosenblum has built her business out in the real world. She's emerged from the beauty industry, a realm which often aggravates women's low self-esteem, and turned it around to make it a source of women's empowerment. Please stop calling her a cosmetics queen. She's a successful industrialist with an $8 million a year company that she didn't come to the old-fashioned way of Israel's aristocracy: inheriting it from her parents. I don't see anyone in the Jewish world rubbing cosmetics into the face of Ronald Lauder because his family manufactures mascara. She's "a poor little girl from Petah Tikva." Rosenblum's humble roots are ridiculed even though she is indeed the daughter of a single mother, abandoned by her father. She won't be among those embarrassing Knesset members shocked by their maiden fact-finding tour to the other side of the train tracks. She lived there. Despite the privation of her childhood, Rosenblum never paints herself as a victim. And because she's wealthy now, she's not likely to be overwhelmed and fawning when invited to dine among the rich and famous who'd like to influence her. After all, she's dated movie stars and she was idolized by Salvador Dali. She takes advantage of her extraordinary beauty. When I interviewed Rosenblum more than a decade ago for an American magazine, I asked her about criticism that she used her fabulous good looks to get ahead. "What else did I have?" she answered. "No one was paying my school fees or setting me up in a business." Nor, I add, paving her way into politics. The press loves covering every permutation in her family story. Hardly a drawback in politics where careers are measured in photo ops. She has blonde hair. Indeed, a crime. Okay, let's pretend she's black. Would the same columnists decry her hair color? Do we really have to point out, in 2005, that dumb-blonde jokes are insulting to women? She has a colorful past. The road to becoming governor of California and president of the United States sometimes runs through Hollywood. Rosenblum was divorced and adopted her children. Divorce isn't a novelty among Knesset members. Nor among journalists. Even Rosenblum's painful inability to bear children is derided as if she was indulging in an amusing hobby by adopting and bringing up her son and daughter. She lacks a clear political agenda. What an absurd criticism in a country where the leaders of the two major parties have jettisoned their institutions, ideology and all. Rosenblum has been pretty consistent at a time when you need a scorecard to know who's in which party. Rosenblum has been talking politics for a long time. Her own political party ran in the elections in 1999, and she just barely missed being elected. Though some Knesset members chuckled at her seriousness about addressing the problems of Israel's poor, personally I'd like to hear what she says about ending the cycle of poverty. Rosenblum was voted the most popular Israeli woman in a mid-1990s survey because a lot of people like - indeed admire - Pnina Rosenblum. You don't have to be among them, but stop scoffing. Just maybe this high-flying heroine of her own story, a woman who shows so little wear and tear despite a past full of hard work and hard knocks, is more than a little threatening. There is one problem with Pnina Rosenblum: She's so beautiful that the political cartoonists, no matter how vicious, will have a hard time finding an ugly feature to distort.