Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

After the Morning After

This morning, I was listening to the radio. Merav Michaeli, one of the most accomplished, principled and energetic members of the Knesset, announced that she was keen to lead the Labor Party and breath new life into it. She has been calling for primaries in the Party for the last few weeks.

Immediately after her interview, the program continued the discussion of the topic of leadership of the Labor Party. Maybe, the journalists suggested, Ron Huldai or Itzik Shmuli would become the next leader.

I felt like crying. The journalists reflected Israel’s gender bias so sharply. The pair of male journalists dismissed the skills and leadership potential of a woman as irrelevant to their discussion.

I was very disappointed, but not surprised. In the last elections, no party was led by a woman (unless you want to count Orly Levy, who technically had her own party, but ran on a merged list.) The coalition that presented itself as the alternative to the Prime Minister was led by four men!

There was no public outcry. There still is none.

Tuesday’s elections in Jerusalem taught me a great deal about the difficulties women face in the political arena. A record number of women competed for places in their local communal administrations but only a small portion were elected. Women’s faces on election posters were defaced. Coalitions were formed amongst candidates to exclude women. The “old school tie” network was activated.

We woke up on Wednesday morning, the morning after the elections, to good and bad news. Some excellent candidates had won places despite the odds; other excellent candidates did not win spots to represent their neighborhoods.

54 representatives were elected, 13 of whom were women — a rise to 24% from the average of 19% the last time these elections were held. I don’t think that we women should celebrate being underrepresented by more than 100% – (we should be more than double the percentage we have achieved.)

The results were as follows:

Gonenim – 55% women

Baka – 33.3% women

Beit Tsafafa – 22% women

Ginot Ha’ir – 11% women

Pisgat Ze’ev – 11% women

Homat Shmuel – 11% women

In a number of cases, the elections were not even held. Last minute rotation deals deprived residents of the opportunity to reject candidates – which is also part of the democratic process – and in some cases, the decision of the Jerusalem Municipality to reserve places for Haredi (men) representatives so distorted the possibilities of election that candidates withdrew from the race.

Perhaps it should not be a surprise that voter turn-out was abysmally low – 17% of those eligible chose to use their democratic right. The low voter turn-out both reflects and contributes to distortions in the political process. Three factors, in addition to the fact that we all have elections fatigue brought on by the farce at the national level, come to mind: low awareness of the elections and their significance, the sense that “my vote doesn’t matter” and a feeling that no candidates deserve my vote.

I will admit that there were some neighborhoods where the choice of candidates was uninspiring or where one candidate had such a strong advantage that it felt that voting was not really going to make a difference. But such cases were not the norm. How disappointing it was to see what happened in areas such as Pisgat Zeev, where excellent women were out-maneuvered and where a large turn-out of women voting for women would have made a difference.

The question for me on the morning after the morning after was how long are we going to allow ourselves to be represented by those who do not represent us?

By this afternoon, there was more proof of why it matters to have women involved in making decisions.

The government, in working out the details of the lock-down we are about to enter, in all its wisdom, said that kindergartens could continue to operate – until 1:00 p.m. What these men had either forgotten or never knew was that kindergartens in this country usually close at 2:00 p.m. What possible wisdom could there be in closing them an hour earlier? Every woman would have known. And, of course, if this error is allowed to proceed, it will be women who are forced to leave their work one hour earlier, adding to their economic disadvantage.

What further examples do we need before we take seriously the need for women to be involved in leading this country, from the local level to the national?

When are women here going to mobilize and use their voting power?

When are we going to be indignant about the absence of women in decision-making and make the change?

Or will I be writing the same piece on March 22nd?

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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