Her own jet set
The window of Yael Dayan's office on the 11th floor of Tel Aviv's City Hall overlooks the Mediterranean and the roofs on Arlosorov Street northward. The deputy mayor apologizes for the drilling noise in the building. "City Hall renovations have reached us," she says.
Her white linen shirt holds a peace dove pin on the lapel. On her desk is a small pile of jewelry; she puts on pieces and takes them off absentmindedly during our conversation. She holds the remote control for the air conditioner. Every few minutes she presses it, and when the air conditioner freezes the room, she turns it off.
She doesn't hold with formalities. She answers the office phone when her secretaries and personal assistants are absent, and she always answers when her cell phone rings, even in the middle of a meeting, even when it's her daughter, trying to decide whether to buy her daughter a dollhouse or in-line skates. It bothers Dayan somewhat, she says, that the film conveys "a sense of summing up." She was not enthusiastic about taking part in it. "But they chose me, and I didn't want to refuse."
She admits "this film has no depth, because I didn't cooperate much." However, she is satisfied with interviewees such as Shulamit Aloni, "who spoke about my frustrating struggles, which still continue. She spoke of me favorably, but she also put a finger on the problematic nature of my political progress," says the former MK. "Unfortunately, that's a very big component of my life."
The film notes that when Dayan was a year old, in 1940, her father, Moshe Dayan, wrote a letter to his wife, Ruth, from a British prison, in which he expressed a wish that Yael would display both chutzpah and politeness. She is asked whether she fulfilled her father's hope.
"Fifth-fifty," she replies. "I don't interpret chutzpah as defiance, but as choosing a path, even if it isn't popular, like meeting with Yasser Arafat when doing so was considered a crime."
She cites another example of chutzpah from "a 100 years ago." In fact it happened slightly more than a decade ago: "I went to the beach on Yom Kippur. But that was the first year I was elected to the Knesset, in 1992. Of course, it didn't occur to me there would be a photographer there, that my behavior would be offensive to anyone. I didn't ride [in a car] to the beach, I walked, and I didn't eat anything." Still her picture, in which she is wearing a bikini and reading a book on the beach on Yom Kippur, made the front page of the now-defunct newspaper Hadashot.
"Some rabbis told me that I looked as though I had gone swimming, and swimming is prohibited. Had I been sitting in a dress, there would have been no point in taking a picture."
Afterward, she apologized. "Honestly, I didn't understand there was a division between private and political life. Rabin shouted at me, in the political sense. He was embarrassed. I'm sure that Leah [Rabin] and the girls used to go to the pool in Tzahala, but the public nature of my behavior disturbed him.
"Afterward I received letters from women who congratulated me on my daring, women who wanted to join me the following Yom Kippur. From the other side, they're still flinging at me, 'How can you speak of reconciliation when you go to the beach on Yom Kippur?'"
And do you speak of reconciliation?
"I'm opposed to religious missionizing, but on the municipal level, in Tel Aviv, there's no reason not to live in harmony. In Meretz I don't have to deal with that, but there's a problem because I was an MK in Labor, which always tried to play on two playing fields. The whole linkup with Meimad [a center-left religious party] was a fig leaf that did not produce any electoral benefit. Until today - how shall I put i delicately - they're stuck with it.
"Which brings me back to the thing most typical of my activity," she says, "which is the absence of electoral benefit. It makes my blood boil when women in a tough situation come to me and tell me, 'I didn't vote for you, but I know that you're the only one who wants to help me.'"
It makes her blood boil more than the cup of boiling tea once spilled on her by a right-wing activist.
The tea attack was politically motivated, but it is hard to ignore that the perpetrator chose a female MK rather than a male. During her time in the Knesset Dayan pushed the status of women, like the law that recognizes sexual harassment as a crime, a law that was widely discussed this year because of former president Moshe Katsav and deputy prime minister Haim Ramon.
"It's a shame that things are focused on the woman as a victim," she says. "All the years I separated two things in my legislation. On the one hand, the fact that there should be representation of a minimum of 40 percent women in all the [public] institutions, and there should be women in managerial positions. On the other hand, dealing with the victim, women who are refused a divorce, agunot ("chained" women trapped in marriage), battered women. My assumption was that if a woman was in a senior position, maybe there would be less harassment of women.
"In the matter of Katsav, I led the demand to oppose the plea bargain. Instead we had government bodies engaged in negotiations. This case brought me back to bad places. They're arguing whether the act was 'disgraceful' instead of arguing about how many years he'll serve. The whole saga is now winding up with the question as to whether or not he'll have a government car for the rest of his life."
As for Haim Ramon, she says, "there was an exaggeration in the opposite direction. He should have been accused of sexual harassment rather than an indecent act by force. In effect, he should have apologized rather than lying, learned a lesson and not slandered the plaintiff. Ramon's story was not to my taste, he screwed himself because of foolish behavior, but Shula Aloni, Shira Dunevich and I thought that he was being unjustly persecuted.
"I saw in Labor how women used to stand in line so as to hug him and maybe even to kiss him. That may have been a long time ago, but it happened. For years there were female parliamentary assistants who held a mock election for the sexiest MK. Ramon was chosen, as were Gonen Segev and Haggai Merom. A suspicious chain," she says, laughing her throaty laugh.
Did the initiative for the law against sexual harassment reflect personal experience as well?
Dayan: "I was always younger than the age group I belonged to" (Dayan skipped two classes in school) "and in connection with the Israel Defense Forces, I remember people who worked with my father and were his age, who would try. These were attempts that sometimes required a physical refusal. They didn't care that I was the daughter of the general or the chief of staff or that I was a minor."
How did your father react to that?
"He didn't know, but besides, he had a totally distorted opinion that when a woman says no she means yes. Over the years they claimed that women would enter his bed. I don't accept that. The expression 'What can I do?' is unacceptable. You can not open your zipper or your buttons, that's what you can do."
In the film she talks about her father with a restraint that does not conceal a great deal of admiration. "He's missed because he isn't here, and also because what there is, is nothing special."
On the wall of her office among the many family photos there is one of them together. Alongside it are pictures of her brothers Udi and Assi (with whom she celebrated a double wedding) and of her mother Ruth. Every Friday evening the extended family meets for a meal in the home of their mother, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year.
Regarding Assi, who has repeatedly been in the headlines during the past two years, for good and for bad, she says, "I'm sorry about the things, but all the drugs and problems won't erase his tremendous talent."
And other family issues. Yossi Sarid is her daughter's father-in-law. And the media have said that Dayan is promoting Sarid for the Tel Aviv mayoralty. "I'm really not promoting him," she says. "I'm in Ron Huldai's coalition. The elections are a year away. I'm waiting like everyone else for the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year to hear whether he has decided to run."
Between one meeting and the next during her busy day, Dayan signs letters and edits an article for the Tel Aviv weekly Ha'ir. She was asked to write from whom she would not ask forgiveness on Yom Kippur. She chose the late right-wing minister Rehavam Ze'evi, "because of his disgraceful legacy."
One of her meetings is with Fran Assa, who is writing a short biography about Graham Greene. Dayan met the famed writer several times, but she can't remember the meetings, although she has read his books and has a good memory. "Yes, yes. We were in his house in Antibes, in the south of France," she finally recalls. "Dov was crazy about his espionage books," she says of her late husband Dov Sion, who died three years ago after a tough battle with Parkinson's disease. At the end of the meeting Assa pulls all of Dayan's books in English out of her bag, and Dayan writes dedications in all of them.
The TV documentary says Dayan would like to see herself, above all, as a writer, but it begins with Bruria Avidan's declaration that "Yael Dayan was a glamour girl."
Is that the title of her life?
"I treat that in context. It seems humorous to me. But it's the result of student editing - a simplistic interpretation of the dictate to put something sexy right at the beginning." Besides, she wants to clarify, "The jet set was not Madonna; it was Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and Philip Roth."
Her circle of friends in Israel also included artists and creative people. The late poet Dalia Rabikovich was her best friend. "Her death left a very significant hole in my life," she says. "From her I inherited Orly Castel-Bloom, whom I knew previously, and who was very close to Dalia during the last year of her life. We protected Dalia as you would a flame, to prevent it from being extinguished."
In the film, Castel-Bloom tells an anecdote that sums up Dayan's personality. Dayan, an amateur gardener, once told her that if you don't water bougainvillea, it gives a lot of flowers. But Dayan makes do without the flowers, making sure to water as much as possible.
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