Of the 27 cabinet ministers who took office with the installation of Israel's new government on Sunday evening, nine are women.
While still outnumbered by their male counterparts, there have never been so many women in Israel’s cabinet. Women are now at the helm of the education, interior, transportation, environmental protection and aliyah and integration ministries.
They also head the social equality, economy, science and energy ministries and in 2023, the new interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, will take over the Justice Ministry.
The nine minister have widely divergent backgrounds, values and policy priorities. So just who are the women now running some of the most important sectors of the Israeli government?
Position: Economy Minister
Party: Yesh Atid
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Prior to her election to the Knesset in 2019, Orna Barbivai served 33 years in the Israeli army, rising to the rank of major general. She was the first female soldier to attain the rank, the second-highest in the IDF, just under that of army chief of staff. She headed the army’s Manpower Directorate.
Barbivai holds a BA in the humanities from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a master’s degree in political science and national security studies from the University of Haifa. She has served on the boards of the Israel Democracy Institute and Clalit Health Services.
Position: Social Equality Minister
Party: Yesh Atid
Cohen was elected to the Knesset on the Kahol Lavan slate in 2019. She was appointed social equality minister in 2020 and gave birth to her third child within days of taking office. In January of this year, she resigned from Knesset and from the cabinet when she broke with Kahol Lavan to join Yesh Atid. She is a former member of the Jerusalem city council. She holds an MBA from Hebrew University and served as a reporter and editor for Army Radio during her military service.
Position: Energy Minister
Party: Yesh Atid
A lawyer with degrees from the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Letzion and American University in Washington, Karin Elharrar specialized in disability law. She worked at Bar-Ilan University’s disability rights clinic and has also been active in anti-corruption efforts and children’s rights.
Elected to the Knesset in 2013, she has served as the chairwoman of the State Control Committee and the powerful Arrangements Committee. She has muscular dystrophy and is Israel’s first disabled cabinet minister.
Position: Science, Technology and Space Minister
Party: Kahol Lavan
A lawyer with an M.A. in public administration degree from Harvard University, Farkash-Hacohen worked at the Israeli Antitrust Authority and was a partner with the law firm of Goldfarb Seligman & Co. From 2011 to 2016, she chaired the Israeli Public Utilities Authority, where she had previously served as legal counsel. As head of the authority, she was an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s energy policies.
Farkash-Hacohen was elected to the Knesset in 2019 on the Kahol Lavan ticket and served as tourism minister and strategic affairs minister.
Position: Transportation Minister
Party: Labor (chairwoman)
Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli has been a Knesset member since 2013. Prior to embarking on a political career, she was a longtime campaigner for LGBT, women’s and workers’ rights and had a long career as a journalist, working in radio and television news as well as in print – and was a Haaretz columnist. She helped found the army-run radio station Galgalatz and the nonprofit group Ezrat Nashim, which assists victims of sexual assault. She was elected leader of the Labor Party in early 2021.
Position: Interior Minister (as of 2023, Justice Minister)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked is one of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s closest political allies, having worked with him since she was Benjamin Netanyahu’s office director between 2006 and 2008. Netanyahu was leader of the opposition at the time and Bennett was his chief of staff. Bennett and Shaked founded the My Israel public diplomacy organization in 2010.
In 2012, Shaked joined the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, which had recently elected Bennett as its leader. She was elected to the Knesset the following year, becoming the religious party’s sole secular lawmaker. She subsequently left the party to found the Hayamin Hehadash party, which merged with Habayit Hayehudi and Tkuma to form Yamina.
She served as justice minister beginning in 2015. As minister, she was involved in efforts to legalize West Bank settlements and to require that nonprofit organizations that receive most of their funding from foreign governments disclose their revenue streams. She also sought to curb the power of the High Court of Justice.
Although now appointed interior minister, she will return to the helm of the Justice Ministry in 2023. On Monday, she said that as interior minister, she would seek to return asylum seekers to their countries of origin or to pressure them to leave for a third country.
Position: Education Minister
Party: New Hope
An educator with a PhD from the University of Haifa, Yifat Shasha-Biton was vice president of Ohalo College in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin prior to becoming deputy mayor of Kiryat Shmona in 2008. She was elected to the Knesset on the Kulanu party slate in 2015 and headed the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Rights of the Child. She became housing minister in 2019.
Her party became part of Likud, after which she was appointed chairwoman of the Knesset’s Special Committee on the Coronavirus. It was in that role that she repeatedly clashed with the government’s efforts to impose a variety of public health restrictions, most notably overturning a cabinet resolution shuttering swimming pools and gyms.
In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would remove her as chairperson of the panel, although he never made good on the threat. In December, she defected from Likud, joining Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party.
Position: Aliyah [Immigration] and Integration Minister
Party: Kahol Lavan
Born in Ethiopia in 1981 and brought to Israel in Operation Moses three years later, Tamano-Shata is a longtime campaigner in support of the rights of Ethiopian Israelis, beginning in 2014, when she was elected head of the Ethiopian Israeli Student Union. A lawyer with a masters degree in public policy from Tel Aviv University, she was as a news presenter on Channel 1 public television before joining Yair Lapid’s newly formed Yesh Atid party in 2012. She was the first Ethiopian-born woman elected to the Knesset.
She has served as deputy Knesset speaker and as chairwoman of the Caucus for the Advancement of Ethiopian Immigrants. She was appointed Aliyah and Integration Minister in 2020, a position in which she will remain in the government headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. She is the first Ethiopian-born member of the Israeli cabinet.
Position: Environmental Protection Minister
Zandberg has been a Meretz Knesset member since 2013. During her time in office, she has served as chairwoman of the Knesset’s Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse and the Subcommittee on Israel’s Beaches. She has been a vocal advocate for cannabis legalization, public transportation on Shabbat, civil marriage and other changes to the religious status quo. She has a law degree from Tel Aviv University and a BA in psychology and economics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prior to entering the Knesset, she was a member of Tel Aviv city council, during which time she participated in the social protest movement of 2011.