By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Israel’s largest political block (the unholy alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu) appears to believe what voters abroad have known for a long time: women can make a difference to the outcome of elections. That’s why it’s accusing its serious rival on the right, Naftali Bennet’s Habayit Heyehudi (which has emerged as a real threat to the block) of being against women. It bases its accusations on flimsy evidence gleaned from words and actions by some of the leading candidates.
In response, a leading woman candidate on the Bennet list has pointed out that whereas Likud Beiteinu has only one woman among its top twelve candidates (Limor Livnat, a veteran member of the current government and the one to lead the attack), Habayit Hayehudi has three.
What both will no doubt choose to ignore is that three other parties in the centre and on the left are led by women: Sheli Yachimovitch of Labour (currently still scheduled to get more candidates than others, except Likud-Beiteinu, though Habayit Hayehudi is threatening to usurp that position); Tzipi Livni of Hatenu’ah, which (in view of the leader’s record) is more outspoken than most others about seeking peace with the Palestinians; and Zahava Galon of Meretz.
But despite the election slogans, it’s not likely that appealing to women voters will influence the electorate; political affiliation will. That’s why a good number of women will vote for Orthodox parties that oppose the involvement of women in public life. And even the more liberal women aren’t inclined to support feminist causes.
Women of the Wall, the organization led by Anat Hoffman, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Israel, are bound to have realized it. Despite their monthly efforts (on the New Moon, traditionally often viewed as a special day for women) to penetrate the segregation at the Western Wall by praying like men (with tallit, even tefillin, parading a Torah Scroll and reading from it) it hasn’t created the expected stir, notwithstanding the frequent media exposure when some are arrested.
Feminism in Israel has had a considerable impact, but seemingly not much in the realm of politics and even less in matters of religion. Despite strong American influences on Israeli public life in many areas, there isn’t enough evidence that politics and religion are among them. That’s one reason why, though there may be considerable sympathy for Hoffman’s cause, indeed for non-Orthodox Judaism as a whole, there still isn’t much support for gender equality that’s central to Progressive Judaism.
One of the reasons may be that, despite its obvious modernity in matters of high-tech and much else, Israelis still in the Middle Eastwhere male macho continues to dominate. Thus Avigdor Lieberman, whose party is now vying for women’s votes, not long ago described the three women party leaders with the Yiddish term veiber (wives, women), apparently intended to be perceived as a way of saying that women are more suitable for the kitchen than for the cabinet table. There’re many incidents of similarly “innocent” remarks that appear to be resonate with the public.
In a country where some Orthodox Jews can still succeed in putting women at the back of buses and others deny them equal rights for one reason or another, it’s reasonable to assume that, sadly, women won’t play a central role in the forthcoming elections.