In marmur

By Rabbi Dow Marmur.

In a country where women are conscripted into the army one would expect gender equality in all spheres of public life, but it’s not like that in Israel. In anticipation of International Women’s Day on March 8, the subject has been discussed in the media. The forthcoming election has provided something of a focal point.

Only one of the parties competing for Knesset seats has more women candidates than men. Of course, the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) parties have no women at all. The haredi women’s party that’s competing for the first time isn’t likely to make the cut: though ballots are secret, the influence of husbands and sons is likely to inhibit many ultra-Orthodox women from voting for their own.

The party that has more women candidates than men – including its leader Zahava Galon – is Meretz. But as things stand at the moment, it’s by no means certain that it’ll make the cut. Even if it does, it won’t get more than four-five seats.

Apart from Galon, the only woman figuring prominently in the election campaign is Tzipi Livni, the co-leader of the Zionist Union. Should it come to form the next government, she’d be prime minister in two years’ time, according to the rotation agreement with Isaac Herzog. But observers suggest that she has been kept somewhat in the background during the election campaign, perhaps not to put off male voters.

For whom are women likely to vote? It seems that more women support conservative politics (the settlements, no peace with the Palestinians, not yielding to international pressure, etc.) than social policies about welfare, housing, medical care and suchlike. Likud has relatively little to say about social policy, the Zionist Union is relatively silent about politics. To repeat: which side will women choose?

Though the United Arab list only has one women in the news – the radical and controversial Haneen Zoabi, who was physically attacked the other day by members of the new haredi-style party cynically called Yachad (together) – many more Arab women are likely to vote this time. The Arab vote has been very low in past elections. Women voting in larger numbers could make a huge difference and give the new list more seats than its components had when they were separate.

In the world of economics and industry there’re a number of women in prominent positions, including the governor of the Bank of Israel. But when it comes to remuneration, it seems that women are paid much less than men – just like in most other so-called developed countries. Perhaps more influential women politicians would change that, too.

They may also be able to do something about the physical dangers that women are still facing from their colleagues and superiors in many spheres of public life, particularly the army and the police. Of late there have been many reports of sexual harassment by senior police officers; several have been suspended and are now being investigated. And a former president of Israel is currently in jail for rape.

The fact that the situation is much worse in the Third World is no consolation. Israel is a highly developed sophisticated modern state that claims to be based both on Jewish teachings and on Western values: two reasons why the discrimination in the various spheres of public life should be regarded as a disgrace.

Jerusalem 7.3.15 (Motzaei Shabbat)

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