Labor Party elections are Israel's version of Clinton vs. Obama
U.S. voters had a choice in 2008, between a feminist with white privilege and a man of black heritage; Israel's Labor Party members now have a similar choice, between Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz.
In 2008, for the first time ever, both a woman and an African American man ran in the U.S. democratic primaries.
ABC News network documented a discussion between a feminist activist in her sixties who supported Hillary Clinton and her thirty-year-old daughter who supported Barack Obama, now U.S. president.
The main question between the two was, what was the feminist choice? To vote for a woman who is a feminist but also belongs to the privileged "white tribe", who had been in power for ever, or to vote for a candidate who is a man, but a member of a race that has long-suffered from discrimination and oppression.
Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, who has done plenty for women and is considered a feminist guru of former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef stature, decided to support Obama.
From a feminist perspective, this was a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, feminism strives to achieve equal rights and opportunities for women. From this standpoint, it is clear that when there is an opportunity to elect a woman for a significant position, we must vote for her.
On the other hand, feminism strives to achieve all-encompassing social change, offering equality not only for women, but for minorities and underprivileged communities as well. It hopes to restructure the hierarchical food chain by creating a better society for both men and women, and based on this rationale, one must vote for whoever will act based on feminist ideals and values, working against the old order.
Those who hoped to maintain the old order found themselves facing a parallel dilemma as well. Sexism came into play, and Clinton's pedigree suddenly became a disadvantage: Critics brought up her "advanced age", and her looks also worked against her. Racism came into play with those who questioned Obama's origins, his Muslim roots, and a "misunderstanding" of his promise for change.
As the slander increases, so too does the dilemma. And now, Israel's Labor Party voters are facing a similar situation: a woman versus a man of Mizrahi decent.
On the one hand, there is Shelly Yachimovich, a woman who has reached her impressive position in a commendable way. Her work in the Knesset during the past six years, after many long years working in the media and on social and economic issues, have brought her massive and justified support.
Yachimovich has also worked on feminist issues in the past and many of the topics she focuses on today deal with impoverished women and underprivileged female workers.
Amir Peretz, on the other hand, is a Mizrahi man from Sderot who has not changed his place of residence or his social standing as a Mizrahi man of the working class. Peretz has, however, already been given a chance and failed, by joining a capitalistic government and for his role in the Second Lebanon War.
Yet he is the candidate who truly presents a social-economic-national worldview that can be seen as a viable alternative, and a true opposition. He does not separate domestic social problems from the political conflict with the Palestinians, and works toward social justice consistently as the head of the Sderot Council, as chairman of the Histadrut Labor Federation and as a member of Knesset.
The question of whether any female candidate must be supported because of her gender has preoccupied feminists for many years. This dilemma has a longstanding history in Israel, coming to a head in the most recent elections with Tzipi Livni, chairwoman of Kadima. Livni did not hold particularly feministic views but the alternatives to her were only white men from the not-so-good old-kind.
Seldom are we faced with a choice between two options. This is the situation that voters in the impending Labor Party elections are facing: a rare opportunity to scrutinize the values of the candidates and a chance to reflect upon the values by which we vote.