Something bad is happening to the equality between the sexes in Israeli politics. Indeed, both the cabinet and Knesset have more women in them than before - three ministers and 18 Knesset members (15 percent of the MKs, while previously women failed to cross the 10 percent threshold), some of them very young - but this is a deceptive facade.
First, despite the struggle of a handful of obstinate activists, some of the female parliamentarians' seats were reserved for party sectors or in round-about "deals." Only a few of the women were given a seat due to affirmative action. Second, most politicians think that increasing the number of women has finally solved the discrimination of 51 percent of the population. Third, some of the women elected are not at all committed to equality.
According to the latest confusing fashion, women in senior positions declare they are "feminists," but a superficial examination of their positions and activity proves they are far from any feminist thinking. Having a woman elected to any kind of office is not necessarily related to the equal rights struggle.
On the contrary - a woman who reaches a position of power and has no idea what that struggle is, or worse, washes her hands of it, causes huge damage to other women and indirectly to the entire equality cause, which is not just a women's "problem." Liberating women from their traditional roles is supposed to liberate men as well from their traditional roles, and enable both sexes to establish society on a better, more just basis than the one that conservative bourgeoisie is fighting with all its strength to preserve.
This power is now threatening, more than before, to dry up the blooms of equality. Last week, MK Colette Avital (Labor) presented a bill proposal introducing affirmative action for women in the Knesset. Not in the stammering vague way the two major parties adopted in the last elections (in Labor - two women in every 10, but not in addition to various reservations), but in the way that turned the parliaments of Sweden, Germany and France from a closed men's club to institutions representing all of society.
In Sweden, the law requires every party to ensure that 40 percent of its candidates are women. In recent years, when women's representation in the Swedish parliament there stabilized at 50 percent, this requirement was canceled. In France, the equality law (paritas) requires the "double zipper" system - man, woman, man, woman. According to Avital's proposal, every party with more than five candidates will be required to have at least two women among them.
Only 12 MKs supported the proposal, five of them women - four from the left and one, Gila Gamliel, from the right. Some 52 MKs, including two women - Gila Finkelstein of the National Religious Party and Marina Solodkin of Yisrael b'Aliyah - objected. Ruhama Avraham of the Likud abstained. And what about the women MKs of Shinui, the liberal party that raised the banner of equality and promotion of women? They all disappeared from the Knesset during the vote.
Why? Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, who responded to the proposal in the Knesset, gave them a wonderful excuse. "I am not one of the sworn defenders of Shas or Torah Jewry," he said. "But I don't think one can force them to decide on their candidates ... in opposition to their conscience and principals."
Like in other issues, the entire faction toed the line behind the chairman. No MK wondered how it is that in the equality between genders Lapid is suddenly displaying such cultural pluralism. One may assume that if the issue was the freedom to eat pork, for example, Lapid would fight tooth and nail against the weird preferences of the ultra-Orthodox.
This is the real face of Shinui, and this is the false liberal spirit hovering over Israeli society. The attacks on the women attorneys in the State Attorney's office (in a recent interview with a senior male attorney), the decision to dismantle the all-women judges panel in Tel Aviv's District Court because it was "too feminine," the emotional consideration shown toward the sentiments of the religious public when these sentiments are directed against women - these are all worrying signs of retreat. Even if the next Knesset has 20 women members and four women cabinet ministers, equality may slide a few more steps backward.
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