In Women's Day Speech, Israeli Minister Tells Female Lawmakers: 'Stop Whining, or You Won't Be Leaders'

What it takes to be a leader, MK mansplains to Knesset plenum, is to be 'feminist, not to constantly complain about deprivation'

Likud MK Ofer Akunis, who told women they should 'stop whining' in order to be leaders on international women's day, 2018
יצחק הררי / דוברות

“If you keep whining, you won’t be leaders,” Minister Ofer Akunis (Likud) told his female colleagues in Knesset during a speech in honor of International Women’s Day. What it takes to be a leader, Akunis said, is to be “feminist, not to constantly complain about deprivation. Learn this.”

Akunis spoke to the Knesset plenum in the stead of Gila Gamliel, the minister for gender equality. He pointed to Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, as an ideal example of female leadership.

In his address, Akunis needled MK Aida Toma-Sliman (Joint List), the chairwoman of the committee for the advancement of women. He said she might not appreciate the fact, “but women received voting rights in Israel in 1948,” the year of Israel's independence. “I don’t know about women’s voting rights in the area around us,” he said.

Sliman subsequently tweeted “Minister Akunis, in the government’s answer in the debate in honor of women’s day, told the female MKs to stop whining!”

Knesset member Aliza Lavie of Yair Lapid’s party Yesh Atid complained about Akunis addressing the plenum on Women’s Day, rather than one of the cabinet’s four female ministers. Following Akunis’ “whining” comment, Lavie tweeted that “even worse” is that “the minister speaking on behalf of the government chose to discard even the appearance of statesmanship.”

After a call by Rachel Azaria of the Kulanu party, Akunis replied, “You’re here to mark International Women’s Day, which is perfectly fine, and I’m going with the flow.”

Hilik Bar, a male Knesset member in the Zionist Union, commented that it is a “disgrace to call women 'whiners' in Israel in 2018. It is the comment of a privileged Tel Aviv man more suited to the Middle Ages or to Israel of the 1950s.”

MK Haim Yelin said he hoped Akunis’ wife would let him back into the house tonight. Akunis replied, “How low. Aren’t you ashamed?”

Earlier in the day, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein opened the special discussion by saying that he was happy that Knesset serves as an example for gender equality and equal opportunity for men and women.

Not only does the 20th Knesset have a record number of female Knesset members, Edelstein said: the Knesset in general contributes to advancing women. He said that the Knesset’s administrative staff is mostly female, including at the higher ranks, and said that the Knesset’s male and female employees receive the same average wage. He hopes the Knesset will serve as an example for many.