The municipal elections held in Israel last week were supposed to bring good tidings for women. Some 40 female candidates ran for mayor in towns across the country – the highest number of women contenders in Israeli municipal elections ever, and four times the number of female candidates who ran in 2008. The results proved a major disappointment, however, with only four female mayors elected, down one from 2008.
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Several months ago, the picture promised to be entirely different. The centrist Yesh Atid party backed 17 candidates in different municipalities, eight of them female. Women ran for office in Sderot, Kfar Sava, Givat Ze'ev, Kfar Yona, Haifa and Ramat Hasharon. In July, some of these women attended a hearing of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, where they discussed the constitutional need for female representation at the municipal level.
Some women tried to change the status quo. Aliza Bloch announced over the summer that she would run for mayor of Beit Shemesh, even receiving the backing of the religious Habayit Hayehudi party. However, poll predictions prompted party leader and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett to withdraw his support for Bloch in August and place it behind an independent candidate, Eli Cohen. The survey results were confidential, so Bloch's electoral chances were not made known. Bloch refused to join Cohen's electoral ticket and resigned from politics. A day before the elections in Beit Shemesh, signs showing Bloch's photograph were hung up with the slogan, "We won't forget and we won't forgive. We want clean politics. Say no to Eli Cohen." Ultimately, Cohen was not elected and the city remained in the hands of the incumbent, Mayor Moshe Abutbol.
Lea Malul, who ran in Ashkelon, also encountered trouble when she tried to enter the rough and tumble world of politics. "Women are unable to break through into the mayor's office, and not because the public doesn't want them," she said. The problem, she said, is that women have a tendency to work in a direct and fair manner, which makes it difficult for them to play hardball politics. "No one checks where strong candidates get their funding, and when complaints are made regarding violations, they are not addressed," she said.
WePower, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that promotes female leadership, expected 10 women to take the helm of local councils after this year's elections, but the actual number of women elected to mayoral positions fell from five to four.
Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg Ikar kept her post, which she has held since 1998, while Tali Ploskov secured another term as Arad's mayor last January. Mati Tsarfati Harkabi was elected mayor of the Yoav regional council, while Sigal Moran won in Bnei Shimon. However, Flora Shoshan, who had been mayor of Mitzpeh Ramon for two terms, lost on Tuesday.