An Open Letter to Shari Arison, the 64th Most Powerful Woman in the World

One of the most powerful women in the world and the most powerful in Israel should do more to fight the exclusion of women in Israel.

Dear Ms. Arison,

Congratulations on your selection as one of Forbes Magazine’s 100 most powerful women in the world. Number 64 in the whole world, on a list that includes Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Queen Elizabeth II, and Michelle Obama. That’s pretty impressive, especially considering you beat out both Angelina Jolie and J.K. Rowling!

When it comes to the local scene, there’s really no competition. We didn’t need Forbes to tell us that you are hands-down the most powerful woman in Israel. That’s also very cool. I have always idealistically believed that the more power and resources come into the hands of women, the more likely it is that the power and resources will be channeled towards making the world a better place. Perhaps that makes me sexist. But some of the things you said following your selection reinforced my feeling that female tycoons indeed feel more of an urge to use their fortune to make some positive changes in the world.

In the extensive interview you gave Forbes after your selection, you lay out your philosophy of business. You told the Forbes reporter that "doing good is good business," and that "I think it's really important to do good. It's important to think good, speak good and do good. If we want to see positive change in the world, then we need to connect to goodness. I try in everything I do, both in business and philanthropy, to make a positive change and do that by doing good."

When asked “Why do you think most people consider 'doing good' and 'good business' to be separate and distinct?” you replied, “I don’t know why people think that. Doing good business—being ethical, being transparent, being caring, implementing values in your business—makes a difference, and you make money at the same time.” The interview ended with these words: "I would love to be thought of as someone who inspires people to do good. That’s my message. Go out and do a good deed.” You’ve even initiated the creation of Good Deeds Day and the website to promote your message.

This is all great stuff - very inspiring. Over the years, I have been impressed with how you have always proudly stood up for your beliefs, even when people painted them as being naive or wacky, or tried to knock you down by poking fun at some the ups and downs of your bumpy personal life (we’ve all had our moments, yours just happen to get a lot of press). But clearly, you are a strong woman and have developed an appropriately thick skin.

In the spirit of your personal philosophy and values, I’d like to call your attention to an article in Ha’aretz written by Ido Kenan, which I happened to read in Hebrew shortly after I read the Forbes piece. The story relates directly to two of the many Israeli companies that you own or hold a stake in.

Brit Harel’s boyfriend couldn’t understand why she kept staring at the bag of salt he had brought back from the market in their neighborhood of Nahlaot in Jerusalem. “Don’t you notice something missing here?” she asked him. “There used to be something blue here,” he recalled. “Yes, a woman!” she responded.

It turned out that the package of salt, purchased near their home in a non-haredi neighborhood, lacked the traditional cartoon figure of a (very) modestly dressed homemaker sprinkling a pinch of salt. When the author looked into the reason why, the company told him:

“The character of the woman was removed from the packages of Salit table salt that are kosher for Passover under Badatz [rabbinical court] supervision, so as to create a distinction between Passover and non-Passover products. Packages of Salit table salt that are sold throughout the year under Badatz supervision bear the image of the woman.”

OK, it’s true that logo differentiation for Passover products is a common practice, but in today’s atmosphere, it’s more than a little problematic. You could choose countless other ways to distinguish packaging - color, size, shape - but the company chose the image of the woman that is the central element of the logo.

I’m sure you know, Ms. Arison, that the removal of pictures of women is a touchy subject in Jerusalem and across the country - there are women being eliminated from billboards and signs on buses, and when women do appear, signs are often defaced. The Jerusalem municipality is taking action against companies that prevent posting pictures of women on billboards and those who vandalize them. The issue is being fought out in the courts as well.

Kenan points out that Salit salt is a subsidiary of Israel Salt Industries, which you own. He also notes that you also hold a controlling interest in Bank Hapoalim, which has had women-excluding advertising woes of its own. On most billboards around the country, the Bank Hapoalim campaign features a picture of male and female spokespeople Erez Tal and Alma Zak pictured holding up a sign. In ultra-Orthodox B’nai Brak, the (modestly dressed) Zak was replace by a bearded dwarf - apparently the image of a mythical figure is less offensive than the image of woman.

Which brings me to my request, Ms. Arison. (I’m sure very few people address you without asking you for something. That must be annoying. But at least I’m not asking for money.)

I’m certain decisions like eliminating the salt lady from the bag and turning Alma Zak into a bearded dwarf were made without your knowledge and far below your pay grade. But I turn to you in the spirit of your statement in the Forbes interview, in which you say that you “use the platforms that I have to make a difference in the world. Anyone who has a position where they can make a difference should use it.”

In that spirit, I ask you to use the power that you have at your disposal to do what you can turn back this destructive tide that seeks to eliminate the images and voices of women from the public sphere in Israel. This effort is aimed at erasing the images of women, no matter how wealthy or powerful or important they are (as we have seen, even Hillary Clinton, number two on the Forbes list, is not immune from erasure).

I urge you to - in your own words - to "make a difference" and "make a positive change in this world" by doing what you can to avoid this disturbing practice in the companies you own fully or partially. Obviously, if you would come out publicly against the exclusion of women in all advertising and marketing in the companies you have a stake in, that would be ideal.

But even if you did it quietly and discreetly, but effectively, it would still count as a very "good deed."