Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to appoint Leo Leiderman over acting bank governor Karnit Flug as the next governor of the Bank of Israel was another instance in which Netanyahu chose a man over a women for a senior public service post.
It's not clear that Flug's failure to get the prime minister's nod was because she is female. On the other hand, it is rather clear that her gender didn't score her any points in Netanyahu's eyes. Anyone who has gotten a look at the work environment around the prime minister in recent years will have easily seen that it has been almost totally devoid of women.
The entire cadre of senior managers that Netanyahu has appointed to his bureau since returning to the Prime Minister's Office in 2009 has been made up only of men. His chiefs of staff and bureau chiefs have been men—Natan Eshel, Ari Harrow, Gil Sheffer and Eyal Haimovsky. And the directors general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eyal Gabbai and Harel Locker, are both male, as have been his cabinet secretaries, Zvi Hauser and Avichi Mandelblit.
But men also rule in other areas of the Prime Minister's Office. All of Netanyahu's media adviser appointments have been men—Yossi Levy, Nir Hefetz, Gidi Shmerling and Liran Dan. Policy advisers Uzi Arad, Ron Dermer and Ya'akov Amidror are male. Netanyahu appointed Michael Oren as Israeli ambassador to Washington and he is being replaced by Dermer. And Netanyahu also chose men, Jacob Turkel and Manuel Trajtenberg, to head major public policy panels.
Actually, the last women who worked in a key, influential position close to Netanyahu was current Knesset member Ayelet Shaked, who served as the head of Netanyahu's office as leader of the opposition. She left after a year and a half due to friction and tension with Netanyahu's wife, Sara, among other reasons.
Netanyahu's people would certainly hurriedly trot out his adviser for Knesset affairs, Perach Lerner, in an effort to dispel this thesis. Beyond the fact that Lerner, although talented, is a second-tier adviser in Netanyahu's office with limited decision-making influence, her case actually underlines the problem. First of all, she is the only example. Secondly, she sought to be appointed cabinet secretary, but Netanyahu didn't think her suitable.
The picture was different with other prior prime ministers. Ehud Olmert appointed Shula Zaken to manage his bureau. Miri Eisen was his foreign press spokesperson, Rachael Risby Raz was his Diaspora affairs advisor and at least five other women were appointed to positions of trust in his office.
Netanyahu's detractors will say that the main reason for the absence of women among his close work associates is related to the main and most influential woman of all in his life, his wife, Sara. Some of Benjamin Netanyahu's former and current associates have said that she has headed off appointments of women to senior positions in her husband's office. I am not in possession of evidence that this is true, but even if it is, it's not an excuse. Responsibility rests with the prime minister and him alone.
The impression created from Netanyahu's handling of senior appointments within his bureau and beyond is that the prime minister is a conservative chauvinist struck somewhere in the 1980s. The 2013 version of the Prime Minister's Office looks like some kind of male bastion in which women serve as secretaries, stenographers and other positions involving logistics and serving coffee. In an era in which in every Western country, women hold the most senior positions, this conduct is strange and disturbing.
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