Tzipi Livni as Forest Zombie and Other Scenes From the Israeli Right’s 'War on Women'

The text is ideological and political but the subtext is that women should know when to shut their mouths.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A still from MK Danny Danon's video.

If the Likud’s Danny Danon was an American politician, the Democrats would be jumping for joy right now - and the Republicans pulling their hair. Danon’s short video-promo for the upcoming Likud primaries contains some priceless political gems for liberals. A Republican candidate for Congress who would tell a female rival, even an extremely provocative one, “you should know to shut your mouth sometimes” might garner applause from religious conservatives and Tea Party types – with whom Danon is indeed associated -  but would also supply ample proof of the right wing’s “War on Women”.

But this is what Danon’s rather juvenile video clip says about Israeli Arab MK Hanin Zoabi. Not only that, in the same short clip Danon tries to associate Zoabi with Tzipi Livni, the right wing’s favorite mark for political attacks. How does he go about it? By saying that “Tzipi will weep” when he, Danon, is finished taking care of Zoabi. Cause she’s a girl, I guess.

Or take a look at another video  that caused a stir this week, this one produced by Ronen Shoval, one of the founders of the Im Tirzu movement who is vying for a place on Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Knesset list. Shoval, whose views have been described by a Jerusalem District Court judge as “sharing a common denominator with certain Fascist principles”, did not make do with Livni’s tears: he cast her as a forest zombie-monster in a video loosely based on this month’s viral YouTube hit Bear Attack. “There are things that are scarier than bears,” the video asserts, but then Shoval comes to the nation’s rescue by tossing a copy of Haaretz at Livni - purse in hand, of course - and her equally zombie-like Peace Now companion.

“From the man who brought you the campaign against the New Israel Fund”, Shoval boasts in his video, already viewed by hundreds of thousands of Israelis. That infamous 2010 campaign, come to think of it, also featured a woman - former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, president of NIF at the time - whose cartoon portrait was disfigured and animalized by a horn attached to her head. (Because both fund and horn are “keren” in Hebrew, so funny).

Depicting women as monsters is, of course, a central facet of Western misogyny since Greek mythology days when Medusa turned men to stone, Scylla devoured them and Charybdis lured them to their doom.  Danon and Shoval’s videos are but extreme and graphic examples of what seems to be the rapid spread of sexist politics from the exclusion of women in ultra-Orthodox parties to misogynistic campaigning on the right as a whole. The text is ideological and political, ostensibly, but the subtext is, to quote Danon, that these women should know when to shut their mouths.

Thus, one can view Benjamin Netanyahu’s sly gender-identification of “someone (masculine) -  or rather someone (feminine) - who said this week that the Western Wall will remain in our hands” as a legitimate shot at Livni, and the titters of  laughter in his audience at the International Bible Quiz this week as simple appreciation for the prime minister’s wit. But when you listen to Netanyahu’s condescending tone and you look at his specific sneer when he then asked “and how exactly will the Western Wall remain in our hands? How will we reach it? With armored personnel carriers?” you can hear, and I know several women who did, the underlying chauvinist challenge: “And what do you understand about these things anyway?”

And when coalition chairman Zeev Elkin reacts to the merger between Livni and Labor leader Isaac Herzog with quips about “the beauty and the geek”, “it’s like dividing up a cake in kindergarten” and “making a deal with a woman who could hardly get into the Knesset”, you have to be particularly nave to believe that he would be making the exact same comments if Livni were a man. Or when Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky of Bennett’s party repeatedly evicts Labor’s Stav Shaffir from his meetings, you can claim that he would act similarly with a male troublemaker, but only until you see the particular look of annoyance and contempt on his face, which women find so familiar.

It’s true that the outgoing 19th Knesset had a record number of females among its 120 members, but judging by the volume of political venom as well as media scrutiny directed at them, you would think that there were 72 of them, and not 27. Zoabi may be more extreme and provocative than the other 9 Israeli-Arab MK’s, but not to the extent that justifies pushing all of them to the sidelines and making her the whipping girl of Jewish suspicion and animosity. Livni may have eclipsed Herzog since their merger, but that does not fully explain the right wing’s malicious and exclusive  focus on her ever since, nor the sexist backroom jokes being told about her right now, as they were about Shelly Yachimovich, when she headed Labor.

True, the left-right divide doesn’t tell the whole story: right wing MK’s such as the Likud’s Miri Regev and Tzipi Hotoveli or Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked and Orit Struck also garner an oversized proportion of media criticism and political attacks. Nonetheless, the geography of Israel’s political landscape provides an accurate map of the parties’ attitude towards women: the Likud’s “natural coalition” includes both secular-conservative suppression of women as well as ultra-Orthodox exclusion from politics altogether. The Jewish center-left, on the other hand, includes Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, whose 19 members included 8 women, Labor, which has now pioneered Israel’s first male-female power-sharing accord and Meretz, founded by a woman and led by one today.

In recent years, voting patterns have started to reflect these differences. According to research on the 2013 elections carried out by the Shavot (Equal) Center at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute, men voted for Israel’s right wing parties by a 46%-36% margin, while women preferred center-left parties 41%-36%, producing a “gender gap” of 15%. The gender gap in the 2012 U.S. presidential elections was 20%; among young unmarried women, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by a whopping 67%-31%.

 “Culture wars” in general, and gender-issues, in particular, have yet to play a major role in Israeli election campaigns, possibly because most prominent female politicians prefer to steer clear of them, unfortunately. In America, Republicans have been made sorely aware that their perception as anti-feminist wagers of war on women has cost them dearly at the polls: they are now trying to stamp out any errant expressions of misogyny in GOP ranks. In Israel conditions may not be ripe for right-wing sexism to play such a decisive role, but if things change before March 17, the evidence, including Danon and Shoval’s misogynistic videos, is right up there on YouTube.