ANALYSIS / Livni's victory is a big crack in the glass ceiling
If new Kadima head forms cabinet, Israel will have women heading all three branches of government.
If Tzipi Livni forms a cabinet, Israel will be the only country in the world with women heading all three branches of government - the executive, legislature and judiciary.
However, feminists agree this would be a historic accident, as both Livni and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik were elected despite, not because, they are women. Neither did the election of Justice Dorit Beinisch as Supreme Court president have anything to do with her views on women's issues.
"This is amazing, especially because women's representation in Israeli politics is meager and dwindling," says MK Gideon Saar (Likud), who served as chairman of the Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women. Israel is graded 82nd in the world in women's political representation - 15 percent of Knesset members are women, and only 1 percent of local government heads.
In contrast, women's representation in the world is rising. In Scandinavia women's places in parliament are reserved; a considerable percentage of France, Spain and Italy's cabinet members are women, and a woman was almost nominated to represent her party in the U.S. presidential election. Another woman is running for vice president.
Livni has distanced herself from gender issues in her public work. Feminist journalist Anat Saragosti sees Livni as an outdated model of feminism. "She's stuck somewhere in the '70s, when prevalent opinion called for equality between men and women, arguing there was no difference between them and that women could do whatever men can. This attitude ignores the discrimination of women as a group, merely for being women," she says.
Although Livni advanced a number of women when she was Absorption Minister and has recently appointed Professor Gabriela Shalev as UN ambassador, it is not clear whether she did so from a sense of duty to advance women.
Livni has no feminist agenda and like other women who made it prides herself on doing it by herself. However, she was elected to the Knesset because Likud reserved high slots on its electoral list for women.
"Livni is afraid of owning up to a feminist agenda, thinking it would weaken her. She may be right because the attacks on her have been chauvinistic," says Saragosti.
Radio and television moderator Merav Michaeli, however, says Livni's activities for victims of domestic violence have deliberately advanced women.
"Her awareness for women's oppression has developed over time," says Michaeli, adding that Livni responds every time she is asked to help assault victims.
But the importance of Livni's election is not to be measured in its feminist extent, says Michaeli. "In Israel there is no women's leadership model. Leadership equals being male. Livni provides another model, which is neither male nor female."
She commends Livni for not using her security record to ward off the generals' attacks and for seeing peace, not war, as the only chance for Israel's survival.
Deputy Tel Aviv Mayor and former Knesset member Yael Dayan, who formed the Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women, believes that no matter how Livni and Itzik define themselves, "the result is good for women."
Dayan says Israel is not ripe for feminist candidates and that Livni should enforce existing laws like the ban on firing pregnant women and equal pay for equal work.
MK Colette Avital (Labor), who ran for state president, believes that electing Livni, regardless of her lack of a feminist agenda, will bring about real change. "This trinity will change public opinion and show that women certainly can," she says.
Rina Bar-Tal, chairwoman and president of the Israel Women's Network, is not bothered by Livni's modest feminist record. "Thanks to her a large crack has formed in the glass ceiling of Israel's political culture," she says.
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