#MeToo in Israel: That’s why I’m running for mayor

Social scientists often observe that Israeli society replicates the United States. When it comes to a trend in American society, the only question is usually not if it will make it across the ocean but when. This phenomenon gives sociologists who focus on Israeli society plenty of material for research and writing. Moreover, it raises many questions for Israeli society and its leaders regarding our unique identity as a society.

As a Sabra (native Israeli) socialized by all the features of a classic Israeli identity — youth movement (in the Scouts), army service, the Big Trip abroad, and marrying my high school sweetheart — I find myself dealing with this issue quite often. I believe that my personal concerns about the nature of Israeli society can be related, as well, to the fact that I chose to enter public service as a career. I did so because I’m a proud Israeli who believes that if you want to make a difference you need to be in the driver’s seat, roll up your sleeves and do the necessary work.

Some of the US trends I find to be very important and I encourage both my personal and work environment to adopt. A great example is the #MeToo campaign, which caught on in Israel relatively quickly and helped us as a society to increase awareness regarding this disturbing phenomenon. (On the other hand, I find others to be less suited to Israeli culture, such as parents setting playdates for their kids.)

Last month, I made a life-changing decision. After many years as a professional public servant, I decided to run for office, declaring my candidacy for mayor of the Emek Hefer Regional Council. It was, on one hand, not an easy decision, yet, on the other, it was kind of an obvious one. I had been toying with the idea for a long time. Based on the same values that led me to my professional path, I believe in stepping up to the plate. I spend a great deal of time just kibitzing and chatting with friends about how our lives can be better. After many years working within local government, I know how significant the mayor’s position is in the day to day life of every resident. Equipped with my professional experience and knowledge and the values that have guided me throughout my public service, I know I’m bringing a new kind of leadership to the people of Emek Hefer, not just applying principles set out by the leadership theorist Warren Bennis, but also staying more connected to the residents and their needs. My agenda can be summed in a nutshell: Every Resident Counts.

When I made the decision to run, I was not fully aware of what was going across the ocean. Only afterwards did a friend sent me the cover of Time magazine from January 29. It thrilled me discover that I’m in good company of a grassroots movement that could change US society. It appears that there is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates running for offices (big and small) in the US, more than 26,000 women are running. For example, the magazine reported that “at least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in 2018, potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in 1994.”

This movement is important since I know that when one woman runs, others often follow. I believe that the more women get into politics, the more it will benefit all of society. I know that once a woman follows her passion and abilities, she shows professionalism, thoroughness, authenticity, collaboration and most importantly the ability to recruit followers and allow others to grow as leaders. That applies both in the business world and in public service.

As for the issue of social trends in Israel, I do hope the women’s empowerment movement will find its way to Israel soon. The current situation here is unthinkable: only six out of Israel’s 257 local authority mayors are women (chosen from just 44 female candidates). I’m happy to hear on daily basis that more and more women are declaring their candidacy for the upcoming local elections. I believe it is essential that women’s voices be heard in local government. As in other public arenas, I believe that the entry of qualified women into leadership roles in local government will lead to successful governance that is service oriented. That is why I have taken on this challenge and, in the spirit of “We Can Do It!”, I urge my female friends to join me in the challenge of running for key positions in local government in the upcoming elections.

About the Author
Dr. Galit Shaul is CEO of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Woman at Bar-Ilan University's Law School, and a candidate for mayor of the Emek Hefer Regional Council.
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