First Female Director of Major Israeli Government Office Dies

With her appointment in 1972 as director general of the State Comptroller's Office, Renana Gutman, who died last month at the age of 92, made feminist history in the country.

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Renana Gutman, the director general of Israel's State Comptroller's Office from 1972-77, who passed away on September 18, 2016.
Renana Gutman, the director general of Israel's State Comptroller's Office from 1972-77, who passed away on September 18, 2016.Credit: Courtesy of the State Comptroller's Office

In 1972 Renana Gutman made history when she became the first woman to be appointed director general of an Israeli government office. “I believe that a woman who chooses professional or public work has equal chances of advancing and going far in this country,” she was quoted at the time, in the now-defunct daily newspaper Davar.

“In general, Renana Gutman believes that women – unlike men – have a choice between work and a career, and work at home,” the paper wrote at the time, adding, “In her opinion, a woman who chooses work outside the home must first of all demonstrate diligence and regular attendance at work, make sure that there’s help in the house so that it will be neat and well organized, and be willing to work long hours outside regular work hours, too."

Gutman, who died on September 17, was born in 1924 in Lvov in eastern Galicia, the daughter of Koppel and Gisella Schwartz. In 1940 she immigrated to Palestine with her parents and attended the Balfour High School in Tel Aviv. Later she studied law in the Colonial British School of Law (aka the Jerusalem Law Classes), as well as history, philosophy and the sociology of culture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

She clerked at the Kaufman and Raveh law firm in Tel Aviv from 1946 to 1948. On May 10, 1948, just days before the end of the British Mandate, she received a license to practice law that was signed by the president of the Supreme Court of Palestine (Land of Israel).

In 1948 she was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces; initially she was posted in the office of the military advocate general, where she was a member of a team that adapted the constitution of the pre-state Haganah militia to the needs of the nascent IDF. The senior members of the team were attorney Haim Tzadok, who later became justice minister, and attorney Binyamin Cohen, later the president of the Tel Aviv District Court.

Gutman subsequently served as military advocate general of the IDF Women’s Corps and from there moved on to various staff positions, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In the early 1950s she was among the team that established the IDF Command and Staff College, and later served as an assistant to then-director general of the Defense Ministry, Shimon Peres, in charge of planning and procedures.

Gutman claimed that there was an advantage to beginning a career in 1948, because the establishment of the state created many positions and jobs that had to be filled by a relatively small group of people.

In 1958 she began her career in the State Comptroller’s Office, where after a decade she was put in charge of reviewing the defense establishment. In 1972 she was appointed by the second state comptroller, Dr. Yitzhak Nebenzahl, as director general of the office; she served in that capacity until 1977.

In a radio interview at the time, Gutman was asked what she considered to be an infuriating question: Don’t you think there’s something wrong with appointing a woman to a position that involves exerting authority over male employees? In response she said that authority is granted to a person according to his or her professional and intellectual knowledge, and added that women are just as capable of wielding authority as are men. She noted that in running their own homes, women fill roles that exert authority over members of their households.

Gutman went on to fill senior positions in the Clalit health maintenance organization, the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Federation. Her husband, physician Dr. Aharon Gutman, died in 1981. She is survived by a son, a daughter and four grandchildren.

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