Women’s rights in Israel are a core security interest
Jonathan Miller’s op-ed supporting Israel in its conflict with Hamas in the liberal Huffington Post was right on the mark. In it he does an outstanding job in the vital role of defending Israel’s moral obligation to protect its citizens from Iran-backed Hamas. However, he also says that American liberals should stand with Israel because of Israel’s “feminist approach to the empowerment of women.”
While it is true that Israel is a bastion of feminism compared with other nations in the Mideast, the Israel of today has a long ways to go on women’s rights.Israel’s female Prime Minister, Golda Meir, served a long time ago. Sadly, the Israel of today is experiencing a gender-fairness crisis that endangers both its progress and security.
When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu pulls together his inner-cabinet to make critical decisions, he calls together a group of nine men, no women. The full cabinet is 30 men, two women. I don’t know of any women on the prime minister’s senior staff, or in Israel’s senior ambassadorial posts at this moment in time. Indeed, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Israel for meetings, did any women meet with her who did more than pour her coffee?
The majority of Israelis are women. Yet where are they in Israeli public life?
Elections will be held in Israel on Jan 22nd. Unless something dramatic changes, it is unlikely those gender numbers will change much in Israel’s leadership, if at all.
I am grateful that Israel exists. I am praying that the ceasefire may last so that innocent lives can be saved on both sides. I have dozens of friends in Israel who I consider family. When their children are called up to the reserves, or they run to their “safe rooms,” or a bus blows up, I feel as if a member of my immediate family is on the front lines as well.
Let me be clear. Israel has EVERY right to defend itself from Iran-backed Hamas and anyone else who would deliberately target civilians. I am grateful to Prime Minister Netanyahu, his cabinet and staff, some of whom are personal friends, for defending the Israeli people. I appreciate that they are willing to serve in what are extremely difficult jobs. But Israel is too important to be left to the leadership of only one gender. It’s a democracy and every group should have an opportunity to be heard. But it is also an issue of Israel’s national security.
After all, for the last decade in every poll I have seen in America and Europe about Israel, the data clearly shows that Israel’s actions suffer a massive gender gap in support from women. Indeed, in a CNN/ORC International Poll – done November 16 to 18, 2012, respondents were asked “Do you think Israel was justified or unjustified in taking military action against Hamas and the Palestinians in the area known asGaza?” Sixty-four percent of men said Israel was justified. Only fifty-one percent of women felt the same way. Indeed,Israel’s supporters tend to be older white men, and especially conservatives – the same people who loved Mitt Romney for President love Israel. But as we all now know, those folks do not make up a majority in Americain 2012.
If Israel wants to continue to have the strong support of America in the future, it needs to have more diversity in its leadership. It also needs more gender-fairness in its treatment of women in religious life.
Israeli activist for women’s rights and religious pluralism, Anat Hoffman, who was recently arrested for praying at the Kotel, has a right to pray at the holy site. The “Women of the Wall” have a right to fight to achieve the social and legal recognition as Jewish women (whether Israeli or not), to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall. Female eabbis should be respected (along with other male non-Orthodox Rabbis).
American Republicans just paid a big price for being accused (rightly or wrongly) of being the party by and for white men. As the rockets in Israel stop, Israel should take a broader look at its own core interests. It must learn the lessons from America, and focus on bringing back its diverse and democratic values as soon as possible.