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Chauvinism is alive and well on the Jerusalem campaign trail

I was asked to represent Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ze'ev Elkin, but the others running wouldn't sit on the panel with me

I am a glass-half-full type of person. It is not to my credit. It is not something I had to work on through self-help books and seminars. It is just how I am and have always been.

With this same positive outlook, I try not to judge people and to be empathetic to their causes, even if I don’t agree with them. I try to consider their intentions rather than their actions when behavior seems questionable. So I have never been the type of feminist who is particularly sensitive to dog whistle sexist references. I do not get offended easily, and being in politics has helped me develop a fairly thick skin.

For those of you who are not aware, I am Minister Ze’ev Elkin’s number 2, on his list for Council Jerusalem Will Succeed — “Yerushalayim Tatzliach.” Ze’ev Elkin is one of the leading mayoral candidates. For him, it was a matter of principle to have 50 percent female representation on his party slate. Few know that he paid a heavy price for this. It is the main reason that he did not run with the local Likud branch, who refused to place any women in a realistic position. Likud would have funded his entire campaign with no need to seek funding from outside sources had he chosen to accept an all-male list.

The campaign trail is very exhausting, with everyone spread thinly between parlor meetings, public events, and panels. Over the last few weeks, there have been numerous panels in high schools, as 17-year-olds can vote, and it is important to inculcate the values of their civic duties. Elkin has faced off with other mayoral hopefuls Ofer Berkovitch, Moshe Lion, and sometimes even Yossi Deitch, on many panels. On the few occasions that Ze’ev Elkin cannot attend, he sends me.

Last week was one of those instances. I arrived at a panel at the Selisberg school in Talpiot, and Lion and Berkovitch insisted that I not sit on the panel with them, as the Elkin campaign had not warned them that I would be replacing him. I was surprised and disappointed but I tried to see the situation from their perspective: they were the mayoral candidates and I was not. I agreed, sat in the audience, and at the end, I was “allowed” to say a few words.

When I was done, a young woman, who was apparently offended on my behalf, stood up to ask Lion why he objected to me sitting on the panel when just a week earlier, his own Number 2, Ofer Ayubi, had replaced him at another school panel and had been accepted with open arms.

She had a good point. Lion argued that, in this case, the organizers had not been alerted that I would replace Elkin, so he didn’t see fit to give me the same airtime as the other candidates had. I accepted the logic and moved on.

Two days later, there was another school panel which Elkin could not attend due to a special meeting of the cabinet. The campaign decided to send me once again to represent him. This time, we made sure to notify the organizers in advance.

Lion and Berkovitch were informed that I would be officially representing Minister Elkin in the panel. They responded by insisting that since I was not the mayoral candidate, I should only be allowed to answer two questions instead of four. The double standard and unfairness of their attitude was becoming more blatant. But once again, I tried to defuse the situation, I understood there is a price to pay for being Elkin’s replacement and not Elkin himself, and I politely accepted their conditions.

On the day of the panel, I sat at the table awaiting the other candidates. An organizer approached me, nervous and apologetic, saying that Lion and Berkovitch were refusing to join me at the table because I was not the mayoral candidate. She confirmed that the candidates had known in advance that I would be replacing Elkin, which is when they had discussed limiting the number of questions I would be able to answer.

At that point, it became harder to contain the frustration I felt. I conveyed to the organizer that this was not what we had agreed on and I wouldn’t move. After a few minutes, she returned. Even more apologetically, she told me that if I didn’t leave the table, Lion and Berkovitch would leave the event, which would ruin it for the 150 students waiting for us.

I faced a choice: I didn’t want to sabotage the event, but how could I silently acquiesce? I wondered whether they would have treated my colleague Yehuda ben Yosef — Number 3 on our list, a 57-year-old Mizrachi man, who would have given them all hell – in the same way. It was obvious to me they would not have, as they had not treated Ofer Ayubi in this way either.

After 15 minutes of the candidates waiting by the door of the room, I told the organizers I would step down. But I wanted the right at least to inform the audience why I would not be sitting on the panel.

I explained the situation to the students and then took a seat with them, as the candidates had demanded. I had thought perhaps they would be moved to regret their stance, and realize what a terrible mistake they had made. To my dismay, not only were they not apologetic, but they actually accused me of being a provocateur and creating drama. From my place in the audience, I found it hard to digest what had transpired.

I struggle with the decision I made that day. What lesson did the students learn from me? Was I encouraging women to give up? Or teaching the art of flexibility, understanding and resilience in a sometimes unfair world? I feel angry that in my “Rosa Parks moment,” I did not stand my ground and refuse to move from my place. But more than anything else, I am astounded and ashamed that chauvinism is alive and well, here and now. And that these two men, one whom I believed was a pluralist and the other whom I thought was a mentsch, took the shameful position they did. Their behavior was at best ungentlemanly, unkind, and immature — and, at worst, completely sexist.

I know that if the shoe had been on the other foot and Einav Bar, Number 2 for Berkovitch, had been in his place, my candidate, Minster Ze’ev Elkin, would have treated her with dignity and respect. He would have welcomed her with open arms to any conversation as a worthy political representative. And he would have let her voice be heard, as equally and loudly as his own.

Because of that, I know I chose the right guy. For, if nothing else, leadership of Jerusalem, a highly pluralistic and complex city, requires dignity and respect toward all its citizens, not least of all its women.

About the Author
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum is a Jerusalem City Council member and no 2 of Mayoral candidate Minister Zeev Elkin. She is also a communications consultant working with a wide variety of organisations in Israel and around the world craft and delivery impactful messages and presentations
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