Will issues regarding the fair and equitable treatment of women in the public square and all parts of Israeli society be part of the coming electoral campaign in Israel? Will women hold significant positions in each and every Israeli political party? Will economic equity for women be addressed in the campaign?
In his recent speech at the AIPAC conference Prime Minister Netanyahu said “I will never allow anything to threaten Israel’s democratic way of life and most especially, I will never tolerate any discrimination against women.”
How can Mr. Netanyahu and the rest of the Israeli political leadership make good on this promise?
To begin with they can assure the public that women will have significant positions in their party lists. Only ten women have served as cabinet ministers since the founding of the state. In the current 18th Knesset on two of the 24 cabinet ministers are women.
This now outgoing Knesset is only the second one where 20% of the members are women. Kadima, Likud, Labor, and Meretz all have guidelines for increasing women’s participation. It is time for these parties and all parties to apply such standards to the entire range of leadership in their parties including members of Knesset not just party or local leadership.
None of the “religious” parties have any women members of Knesset. Why? One may argue about counting for a minyan, receiving smicha, or being a dayan within each religious group but being a member of Knesset is not a halachic matter. Women often bring a different perspective to the table than men, a perspective that can help move Israeli society forward in creative and important ways.
It is important for the voices of women to be in the Knesset for many reasons and not just to address “women’s issues”. Peace, social justice, equal access, good education, and good jobs are everyone’s issues. Women in the parties have much to say about these matters and their ideas should be part of the mix.
The religious parties objected when David Ben Gurion wanted to appoint Golda Meir as Minister of Labor. Their objection was that a woman would be ruling over men. They finally acquiesced on the grounds that the Biblical Judge Deborah has been acceptable to God.
As the campaign begins in Israel, let us hope that women will be in significant positions on each and every party list, that women will be members of each parties leadership, and that the issues of social equity, which burden women more than men, will be addressed by all candidates of the Knesset. Equality is also a matter of the democracy and security of the State of Israel.
Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is the Executive Director of ARZA, The Reform Israel Fund.