Text size

The gender card made a late but inevitable appearance on the political campaign scene Thursday when Likud launched ads featuring Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's image alongside a slogan reading "It's too big for Livni [to handle]."

Kadima accused Likud and its leader Benjamin Netanyahu of male chauvinism against the female politician, while Likud defended its stance and female politicians from both sides were sent into the fray to defend their parties.

Members of Likud's campaign committee said they aware of the sensitivity surrounding the issue of Livni's sex when they were tasked with running a negative ad campaign. They said a number of slogans attacking her lack of experience were checked on focus groups and that the one chosen was picked because it was seen as being "free of sexism and chauvinism." Ever since Labor leader Ehud Barak called Livni "Tzipora" - for which Tzipi is a nickname - political leaders have been careful not to come across as being sexist. Barak's calling Livni by her full name was widely perceived as a patronizing move. Still, Likud officials said they had no intention of dropping a negative ad campaign against her, especially not after Kadima ran a negative ad campaign against Netanyahu.

Likud officials said Livni also played the gender card when she said, "small on me, small on you, small on everybody," which they say was a veiled sexual remark.

Almost immediately after the Likud's negative ad campaign ran, female politicians from both sides made comments to the press.

"It's unfortunate that Bibi should try and take us back to dark days when women were not considered appropriate to carry out important jobs," Minister of Tourism Ruhama Avraham Balila of Kadima said, referring to the Likud leader by his nickname. "We remember Bibi was [prime minister,] and failed royally. I believe the women of Israel will cast their votes in such a way that Livni will prove she can succeed where Bibi failed."

Another female lawmaker, Kadima's Ronit Tirosh, said Netanyahu was tainted with "sexist chauvinism," and that he reminded her of, "the common macho [man] who tries to show off his size. No doubt Bibi and the Likud are hysterically stressed and they should display more sensitivity and responsibility than disseminate such anti-educational messages to the public and the youth in particular. The education system is trying to right a wrong and in recent years trying to eradicate such stigmas."

Likud's women rallied to defend the party's leader. "Livni isn't right for the job," Miri Regev, former IDF spokesperson and number 24 on the party's roster, said. "It is too big for her to handle."

"Just because Livni is a woman does not mean she is immune from criticism," Tzipi Hotovely, number 17 on the ticket, said. "We've had bad experiences with her."

The Israel Women's Network slammed the slogan.

"It is inconceivable that in the 21st century Likud and its leader would try to cast doubts on the ability of a woman to lead the country," the organization's chairwoman, Rina Bar-Tal, said. "The campaign reeks of unforgivable chauvinism. Like Ehud Barak who called Livni, Tzipora, we see that every time a woman manages to threaten the male hegemony, some are afraid and try to bring us back to the dark days in which women were removed from leadership functions."