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Now is the time for female leadership in Israel

Empirical testing shows that women are better equipped to deal with the adaptive challenges of today - just ask Germany, Finland, New Zealand, or Taiwan
Labor party MK Merav Michaeli seen during a special meeting of the Labor-Gesher and Meretz factions outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Labor party MK Merav Michaeli seen during a special meeting of the Labor-Gesher and Meretz factions outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Now is the time to recognize the importance of female leadership for Israel to thrive in the modern world. On January 24th, the primaries for chairperson of the Labor Party will be held. The results will determine whether a woman will be the leader of a political party in Israel in the upcoming elections.

Many must be wondering why I choose to engage in the fate of the Labor Party, which many of the public perceive as obsolete, as well as the question of why it is important for Merav Michaeli to lead the party. It indeed saddens me to imagine the party that was so significant in the establishment of the state and deserves credit for many of the achievements we now take for granted disappearing in the upcoming elections. Moreover, unlike many others, Merav Michaeli has demonstrated her loyalty to the party’s values and remained true to her vow to the public not to join Netanyahu’s government. Beyond the plight of one party or another, or the future of Merav Michaeli, the true issue is, how will the future of the State of Israel look without women in leadership positions?

Most of the arguments about integrating women into politics and public life in general focus on the issue of equality and affirmative action. When the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was asked why he put together a gender equalized government, he replied: “We are living in 2015.” When the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked how many women should serve on the Supreme Court, she replied, “Nine,” clarifying that if for many years nine men held office, then there was nothing to prevent nine women from doing the same. Nonetheless, the need for promoting female leadership goes well beyond the issue of equality.

Anyone who follows what is happening in the world will notice that one of the lessons from the coronavirus crisis is that countries with female leadership, such as Germany, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, and Taiwan have performed much better. In a relatively short period of time, the coronavirus crisis made blatantly obvious that change, which in the past was an evolutionary, linear process allowing time for adaptation, now accelerates exponentially. This phenomenon, which has been around for a while, challenges our human coping mechanisms. When change was linear, we could extrapolate from the past and the present into the future. This gave leaders the ability to predict and plan for events and processes that were likely to take place in the future. It enabled leaders to speak with certainty about what we were about to face and what action needed to be taken to better prepare for what lay ahead. Today with accelerated exponential changes due to the data and technology revolution, this is not possible. In this reality, there is a dire need for leaders who can help people cope with adaptive challenges. Also, there is great value in humility, in the ability to acknowledge mistakes and in the capacity to lead through a process of collective public learning to adequately deal with the challenges.

There appear to be biological reasons why men tend to publicly display hubris and self-confidence more than women. In primitive times, these traits may have served to give those men an advantage in deterring enemies, so that throughout the process of evolution there was a selection bias of men with these traits. However, in todays’ world, excessive self-confidence can be an obstacle to progress.

Certainly, one should never generalize. Golda Meir, as prime minister, did not excel at detecting the winds of change. Perhaps, if she had been more modest and perceptive, the Yom Kippur War might have been prevented. Moreover, there are men, including those with an impressive military record, who excel in intellectual modesty and capacity for learning. A good example is former commander-in-chief General Gadi Eisenkot, who knew how to admit his mistakes and accept responsibility, following an infiltration incident in the Golan Heights that occurred while he was in charge. Later, after Gallant’s nomination for chief of staff was disqualified, Eisenkot stated that he was not yet prepared to accept the position. In the upcoming elections, he displayed modesty when he decided that he needed more time to learn about politics before deciding to run.

Despite these examples, empirical testing shows that women have on average more of the necessary qualities needed to deal with the adaptive challenges of today. The entire world is internalizing this fact. In the previous US presidential election, Hillary Clinton won the majority of the general public’s votes, however, Trump won the electoral tally and we were all witness, over the past four years, to how tragic was his election. President-elect Joe Biden realized he must appoint a woman as his vice president and chose Kamala Harris. She is likely to be the next president after he completes his term. Nancy Pelosi, who has long been the leader of the House Democrats, immediately follows Harris in the US government hierarchy. For the first time in history, Biden also appointed a woman as secretary of the treasury and another woman as head of federal intelligence. Many attribute the success of the Georgia Democratic Party to the former Democratic minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives. and candidate for governor, Stacy Abrahams.

For the Nordic countries it has long been accepted that women make up most of the leadership. In Germany, which became the leader of the free world during the Trump era, Chancellor Merkel impressively leads her country and Europe, with modesty and skill.

It is distressing to see that in Israel, which claims to be the innovation nation, we linger behind in terms of the quality of leadership and in understanding the value of female leadership. It is crucial that we will have the option to vote for at least one party with women leadership out of so many parties in the coming elections.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.
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