Analysis

The Israeli Beauty Queens Who Don't Want to Be Pretty and Shut Up

While decorated generals can't bring themselves to mumble anything more than 'blue and white' and 'unity,' TV presenter Rotem Sela, model Shlomit Malka and actress Gal Gadot are speaking out against inequality

Parodic image shows Israeli actress Maya Dagan, model and actress Rotem Sela, actress Gal Gadot, and model Shlomit Malka in the place of Kahol Lavan politicians.
Shira Makin

Nothing so incredibly radical had been declared publicly in Israel for quite some time: Arabs are human beings and they are citizens in this country. How shocking! The minor detail that 20 percent of Israelis are, well, Arabs, doesn’t really interest the leadership here or many of the people it is inciting so successfully. As everyone now knows, this outrageous statement wasn’t made by any of the people who are vying to get elected and purport to present an alternative, but by Rotem Sela: an actress, model and television host.

Of course, the things she said should be obvious to everyone and not a matter of any debate, but in the current atmosphere, it was a courageous act, and it was marvelous to see that Sela quickly received the backing of none other than Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot, the all-time most successful Israeli in Hollywood – as well as by model Shlomit Malka and other women.

>> Read more: Model and TV presenter shocks Israel by crying 'King Bibi has no clothes!' | Opinion ■ A state for some of its citizens | Editorial

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unusually candid response to Sela’s post – “Israel is not a country of all its citizens. According to the nation-state basic law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and of it alone” – could surely make Ze’ev Jabotinsky (“I am prepared to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights… All of us… want the best for the Arabs of Eretz Israel… We want them to prosper both economically and culturally… Equal rights for all Arab citizens will not only be guaranteed, they will also be fulfilled… In every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice versa”) turn over in his grave.

Rotem Sela.
Shai Yehezkel

Sela, Gadot, Malka and others who dared to open their mouths and say things that aren’t very popular these days, despite having something to lose for doing so, were preceded by other women who have recently spoken out. Women like journalist Oshrat Kotler, who had the nerve to mention the destructive implications of the occupation. Or Orna Peretz, the social-activist Likudnik who “bored” Netanyahu with her totally justified protest against the closure of an emergency room in her city, Kiryat Shmona.

Women have been a prominent and leading voice with respect to many of today’s key social causes: supporting public housing, the Mizrahi cause, the rights of LGBTQ and disabled citizens, and direct employment of workers, protesting against police brutality, and so on. And this group comprises women who are approaching or have even broken the glass ceiling as well as women who are much closer to the dirt floor.

What’s going on here? We’ve got decorated generals who can’t bring themselves to mumble anything more than “blue and white,” “unity” and “security,” while fearless women are saying just what they think. Maybe we need to redefine what mettle is, who is brave and who, even if they’ve come back from the battlefield (or the newspaper, at least) is less so.

A further sort of dissonance – as far as much of the public, held under the sway of common sexist stereotypes, is concerned – is that these statements have come from women whose beauty and professions don’t always correlate with social protest and having strong political opinions and the like. Much of the response on social media has come from men who are disparaging these women and highlighting the fact that they are models or actors. It’s like, hey, this is not the way things are supposed to be. Just be pretty and shut up.

Gal Gadot.
\ Mario Anzuoni/ REUTERS

This sociocultural situation has given rise to an interesting phenomenon: The actresses in question have won power and influence in part because they fit the patriarchy’s requirements for women and their appearance. And now these women are using this not to please others, but to express their opinions – to the utter astonishment of those who are convinced that these women are not supposed to have an opinion at all. The shock here has been twofold: being told that Arabs are human beings – and by women. Women who have actual thoughts and opinions. That’s really going too far. Where will it all lead?

But there’s no need to worry, nothing has really changed. For example, Likud provided this response to Moshe Ya’alon’s interview about Israel’s security situation, on Razi Barkai’s radio show this week: “Ya’alon, who zigzags between opinions and parties, is the female version of Tzipi Livni.” Basically, we’re all still in third grade where it’s the boys versus the girls, and the absolute worst insult you can hurl at a boy (well, aside from calling him gay) is that he’s like a girl (and there’s also a bonus: The opposite holds true too).

Long live the people of Israel.

Shlomit Malka.
Thibault Camus,AP