Seven Knesset Hopefuls Set Out Their Feminist Visions

In advance of International Women’s Day on Sunday and Israel's national election, TheMarker asked seven women Knesset candidates from different parties to explain their platforms on gender-related issues.

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Merav Michaeli Zionist Union Yifat Shasha-Biton Kulanu Gila Gamliel Likud Aliza Lavie Yesh Atid

We gathered five current female Knesset members and two candidates in the upcoming election from seven different parties to debate their platforms on gender issues (this was done virtually, as they responded individually). Among the questions asked: How can the wage differentials between women and men be narrowed? What needs to be done about the plague of sexual harassment and other sex-related crimes revealed in the Israel Police?

Except for Yisrael Beiteinu, which declined to provide a representative, all the major parties are represented in this special TheMarker project for International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8, as well as on the occasion of the election in two week’s time.

1. How will you act to reduce the gaps in wages between women and men? Will you promote legislation on the issue?

One of the most outrageous issues in the Israeli labor market of 2015 is the large salary differentials between men and women. Women’s monthly salaries are about 30 percent lower than those of men, and in hourly terms they are paid about 15 percent less. We asked the candidates how they would address this problem.

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid): “I have legislated two significant laws: the Equal Pay for Male and Female Employees Act, which states that a labor court is allowed to award compensation [to a woman who receives less salary than her male coworkers], even if there are no financial damages, at a level the court deems appropriate. This means a woman who is discriminated against in her pay will be compensated not only for the salary differential, but for the damage to her professional status and honor, too. The second legislation involved addition of government corporations to the list of public bodies required to address gender-related matters, with a breakdown of such, in their financial reports.”

MK Gila Gamliel (Likud): “As the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, I sponsored a bill which states that the workplace be recognized as supportive of families – and I will continue to advance this bill. I am also waiting for answers from the Civil Service Commission to my demand to recognize, in part, working from home. In addition, we must change the salary conditions and base some part of wages on the productivity of the worker. These two initiatives will reduce the salary gaps between men and women.”

For their part, MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union), MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint List) all replied that the problem in the country is not legislation – it already exists – but rather enforcement of the law, which must be more effective. Touma-Suliman emphasized that the number of inspectors in the Economy Ministry enforcing laws related to gender inequality is small and their priorities are problematic.

“It seems that it is more important for the minister or the director general [of the Economy Ministry] to supervise work on the Sabbath than to examine gender inequality,” she said.

MK Shuli Moalem (Habayit Hayehudi) said that, in her opinion, both men and women must be encouraged stand up for their rights to receive equal pay.

2. Will you promote a bill for gender equality in senior positions in the public service?

Touma-Suliman: “As someone who was elected in 2007 as the first Arab woman on the Arab High Monitoring Committee, previously a completely male body, I definitely think we must advance women in senior positions.”

Moalem: “I do not know if legislation is the requisite response to this issue. I wouldn’t want a woman chosen [for a senior post] who has a question mark about her professionalism. But we must undertake processes that will allow increasing the representation of women in such positions We must reach these women – for example, via initiatives of search committees for senior public service posts. We must create ‘networking’ and set a minimum level for women candidates in tenders for senior positions. If no such level is met, the tender will not take place. We must take the initiative in order to motivate them to participate.”

Yifat Shasha Biton (Kulanu): “There is an order from the attorney general to promote the appointment of women but it has not been enforced. Nonetheless, we must promote the appointment of women not because they are women but because they have talent.”

Gamliel: “The time has come to deal with the issue by law, or through a cabinet decision. In the past two years we have seen the integration of women in senior positions in public service, but the situation is still a far cry from what is required. We must demand that all government ministries present on International Women’s Day the percentage of women in senior positions, and promote five-year plans that will lead to equality between men and women in senior positions.

Zandberg: “I am in favor of regulation in this matter but am not sure it should be so direct. We need to implement a smart mechanism for significant representation of women, such as on boards of directors. For example, we must guarantee representation on such boards, in senior management and in public companies ־ not just in government corporations. Around the world people already understand that diversity around the management table is expressed in the bottom line, so it is also possible to think about methods of offering financial incentives.”

Michaeli: “Advancing such a law is an excellent idea that certainly must be examined. But I want to work toward representation of men at lower levels and in jobs considered ‘feminine,’ as part of the goal to reduce the gaps and hierarchical differences between men and women, and with a desire to reach an equal and more diversified workplace.”

Lavie: “Definitely. I sponsored a bill with MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) for appropriate representation of women on the boards of directors of publicly traded companies, but the bill did not advance. In addition, I promoted legislation to guarantee proper representation of women in local and municipal government and companies.”

3. What about equality in party slates for the Knesset: Is it easier to try and deal with the inequality in the public sector than at home, in your parties?

The 19th Knesset, the outgoing one, had a record number of women: 27 out of 120 members. This includes three women who headed their parties after the last election: Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah), Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), and Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), who was replaced by Isaac Herzog during this past session. But the three Haredi parties – Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yahad – have no women on their slates at all.

Despite the steadily increasing number of women in the Knesset, the outgoing cabinet had only four women ministers: Justice Minister Livni, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud), Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid). These four represent a rise in the number of women ministers: In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous cabinet, serving from 2009 to 2013, there were only three female members.

Shasha Biton (Kulanu has three women in the top eight places on its slate): “This is not a change that should be made through legislation, but a process we must undergo as a society. In Kulanu, 40 percent of [the people on] the slate, until the 20th place, are women. The problem is that very few women are willing to enter politics, since it has a price.”

Gamilel (Likud has four women in the first 24 places): “We need to deal with this through legislation. The problem is that there are parties such as those of the Haredim in which there are no women at all on the list. Therefore, we must provide incentives for the parties that do have appropriate representation of women.”

Michaeli (Zionist Union has eight women in the first 24 spots on its Knesset list): “Just before the Knesset was dissolved I introduced a bill ensuring a 40-percent minimum representation for each gender on every party slate for the Knesset; 33 MKs cosponsored it. I hope we will be able to pass it in the next Knesset.”

Zandberg (Meretz has three women in its top six slots): “I firmly believe in creating mechanisms that guarantee representation. In Meretz, the last elections were proof that guarantees of representation do work since the women who were elected the previous time because of this guaranteed representation were chosen this time on their own merits. If we wait for equality without guaranteeing such mechanisms in law, it will not happen.”

Lavie (Yesh Atid has four women in its first 13 places): “I am not sure that a ‘forced’ method will be the right mechanism. Actually a method of incentives similar to what exists in the law that I passed along with MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid) would be better. In the mechanism used for municipal elections, parties in which women constitute at least one-third of all members will receive an additional 15 percent in public election funds. The local religious councils, which avoided appointing women for years, found excellent and appropriate women the minute my bill demanded that they appoint women to the councils.”

Moalem (Habayit Hayehudi has four women out of the first 14 places): “In my party MK Ayelet Shaked was chosen in the primary in the first spot after party head Naftali Bennett. She came in first out of 37 men and 10 women in the primary. We must bring in more women to run in the parties which hold primaries. I am in favor of canceling the reserved places for women in Habayit Hayehudi when half of the candidates on the list are women. Until we get to that stage, we must set a [minimal] level of representation for women on the slate.”

Touma-Suliman (the Joint List of Arab parties has two women in its first 12 candidates): “In the Joint List we doubled our representation of women from one candidate in the last elections – MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) – to two women, but that is not enough. I would have liked to have seen real representation of women that would act on behalf of the needs of women. We must give higher public campaign funding to parties that guarantee proper representation for women.”

No women on Shas’ ticket this year (as usual). Photo by Dudu Bachar

4. In light of the sexual harassment cases in the police, what should be done?

In recent months, case after case of senior police officers suspected of sexual offenses have been revealed. Four police major generals have already left their posts because of alleged sex offenses, including the deputy police commissioner, the former commander of the Jerusalem District, the former head of the Judea and Samaria District, and the commander of the Coastal District. It seems there is very little difference between the candidates on this question: They all think the police need to be thoroughly shaken up.

Zandberg: “This phenomenon points to a need for a complete cleaning out of the stables. The new police commissioner (man or woman) cannot come from within the police force, since whoever was on the inside of the organization and knew about the harassment cannot stand at its head. It is also possible to appoint a woman as public security minister.”

Lavie: “[The charges of] sexual harassment by senior police officials demands reorganization of the institution that has degenerated. It is impossible to make do with firings and suspensions without cleaning house and make fundamental changes. We must consider handling sexual harassment complaints based on the complainants’ choice – not by automatically calling in the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating the police. We must appoint women to be responsible for preventing sexual harassment within the police force, not just in the national headquarters but also in the force’s various units.”

Moalem: “We need to talk about a new organizational culture because ‘the good old boys’ in the police do not understand the world has changed. At the same time, the police must start backing the women who file the complaints. It is important to impose strict punishments on police officers who commit sexual harassment offenses. It is not enough to just fire them; they can be demoted and have their pension and other financial rights reduced when they leave the police. By the way, Ayelet Shaked would be an excellent minister of public security.”

Touma-Suliman: “The police establishment is male, hierarchical and aggressive. Such characteristics are a simple recipe for sexual assaults. That is how they [policemen] exploit their power improperly.”

Gamliel: “The first step is the appointment of women as public security minister and as police commissioner. This step would be a clear declaration and would trickle down to the rest of the force. The new woman police chief does not have to come from within the ranks of the police force. We must create equality in a system which is supposed to be a place of morals and honesty.”

Michaeli: “The most immediate and urgent thing to do is to have all the police, at all levels from the commissioner on down, undergo intensive training and seminars on sexual assault and laws dealing with sexual harassment. The second stage is to replace the section on sexual offenses in the criminal code with a law preventing sexual coercion, and of course, to promote many more women to top positions in the police, throughout the entire chain of command.”

Shasha Biton: We must increase the severity of the punishment for sex offenders.

5. Which law today is the most harmful to women?

Sometimes it is easier to say which laws are missing, but it is important in the present situation to understand which of the existing laws are damaging – and to deal with them.

Gamliel: “In my opinion, the law on custody for young children is archaic. The law states that in cases of divorce, the mother has the implicit right to custody of the children until they reach age six. I will act to repeal the law and give equal rights to mothers and father. This law is also harmful to the implicit rights of the fathers, and to the rights of parents for equal parenting. The determination that women need to serve in the role of mother, including raising the children, is not egalitarian and not feminist.”

Zandberg: “The Rabbinical Courts Law discriminates against women in particular and causes them harm in divorce settlements, and this especially applies to women in poorer and weaker conditions. We must separate religion and state, and allow the choice of civil marriage in addition to the rabbinate option. It will be very difficult to reach equality in the area of gender without removing this barrier.”

Lavie: “[Most damaging is] the race for authority in Israel between the religious courts and the civil ones when opening a divorce proceeding. My proposal says that it is not the first one who files who selects the court system, but there should be a clear and proper default choice. At the same time, we must act against the allowance systems in the National Insurance Institute Law, which grant a negative incentive to going out to work – such as the conditions for receiving child support from the NII for a single mother. This creates a situation in which it is preferable to remain at home since going out to work cancels the allowance.”

Michaeli: “[Most harmful are laws] ignoring the economic value of housework and raising children; the non-separation of religion and state, which leads to exclusion of women from the public domain; archaic and patriarchal definitions of sexual offenses in the criminal code; and so on.”

Shasha Biton: “In the labor market the most damaging law today for women is that dealing with contract work, which was intended to regulate the work of contract and temporary workers – but created a problem, for example, in the educational system. In the teachers’ room, there are government employees sitting side by side with contract workers, and we are losing out twice: Our children are dealing with unsupervised teachers and because of this discrimination their motivational level is different. The second time we lose out is when we create discrimination on the basis of gender, since most of these contract workers in the education system are women.”

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