There is no lack of areas in which Israel could teach friends around the world, such as the United States, a thing or two. Granted, you can’t compare the size and population, but look at our COVID-19 vaccination rollout compared to the elephantine, chaotic approach that has unfolded in the US. Clearly there are some things – often borne of crisis and immediacy – in which Israel thrives.
However, there’s no shortage in lessons that Israel can learn from certain aspects of America. It was eye-opening to follow the Biden administration as it filled its cabinet posts over the last few weeks, but it reflected the diversity of the candidate field vying for the Democratic nomination last year. Six women, two African-Americans, an Asian-American and the first US openly gay candidate.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris (the first black, Indian, American woman VP) vowed that their cabinet would look “more like America,” and to their credit, they’ve succeeded.
More than half of the 25 cabinet-level nominations have gone to people of color, and 12 of the 25 are women, including some precedents: a first woman treasury secretary in Janet Yellin; the first black secretary of defense in Lloyd Austin; and Deb Haaland, who would be the first native American cabinet member as secretary of the interior; Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay cabinet minister as transportation secretary; and Rachel Levine, an openly transgender cabinet appointee as assistant health secretary.
Of course, there can be such a thing as bending over backward in the name of diversity, but Biden’s appointments seem to be based on professional expertise, and they do indeed look “more like America.”
Contrast that with the Israeli cabinets, from the current one under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all the way back to 1948. Diversity would not be the first word that comes to mind when describing their makeup, almost exclusively of white males.
Not only the cabinet but also the Knesset also hardly reflects the diversity of Israel. Women are woefully underrepresented, as are Israelis of Ethiopian, Russian and Anglo descent. In fact, the only area which seems to be moving toward an accurate reflection of society are the six gay men serving in the outgoing Knesset (including Public Security Minister Amir Ohana).
As we head to another round of elections, most parties will stick to the tried and true, offering lists of privileged men, many with military or security backgrounds. When we see the final lists on Thursday, don’t expect many surprises or efforts to include candidates who actually reflect the population in Israel.
Of course, we’re such a clannish country, and for some parties, diversity isn’t even an option. The Arab parties will field Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox parties will field haredim, and the National-Religious parties will field observant Jews.
Only two parties will be led by women: Labor and Bayit Yehudi. To its credit, the Labor Party, in an attempt to reinvent itself and not sink into oblivion, has placed its bets on Merav Michaeli, who is busting up the men’s club and injecting some vitality and new life into the troubled party.
Labor was also the only party to hold primaries ahead of the upcoming election, presenting the image that it’s not a closed field with handpicked candidates, such as, for example, Yesh Atid or Yisrael Beytenu, which are basically run by a single person. When the time for mergers comes, as it will, Michaeli should think twice before welcoming old-guard men like Ron Huldai into the fold to ride on her coattails, which would veer the party away from the fresh look it is cultivating.
Israeli politics should take a cue from what has happened in the US, perhaps with not quite so much enthusiasm, and start realizing that it needs to modernize and embrace change.
Our political machinery needs reevaluation and rehabilitation. More and more people are getting jaded about politics because they feel that it doesn’t talk to them or represent them. It starts with the lists of candidates that the parties choose and branches out from there.
It’s time to test whether the adage – a government that reflects the country can best serve it – is accurate. We have a feeling it is.