Retired Supreme Court Justice: Israeli Women Still Face Glass Ceiling

Dalia Dorner, who has announced her candidacy to succeed Shimon Peres as Israel’s president, doesn’t criticize women who choose family over career.

In honor of International Women’s Day, on March 8, retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, who has declared her candidacy to succeed President Shimon Peres when his term ends this summer, shared with TheMarker her thoughts about the role of women in Israel.

Dorner, who is currently president of the Israel Press Council, confided that she was not at the top of her class in university and that she was not much of a homemaker.

She described coming from her home in Tel Aviv twice a week to attend classes at the Hebrew University law school in Jerusalem, sleeping on the floor of a student apartment. “We were eight girls in a class of 200, and not all of the girls finished,” said Dorner, who turns 80 this month.

She says that because she spent her entire career in the public sector, she was protected from the so-called glass ceiling that limits the career advancement of many women. “We are far from equality,” Dorner acknowledged when asked about the status of women in Israel today. “Women need to be outstanding to go far.”

Asked whether some women simply give up in the face of difficulties, she cited the situation of her daughter-in-law, lawyer whom Dorner described as “very talented.”

“She decided that at 4 P.M. she would put down her pencil because she wants to be with the children. It’s a conscious decision and I admire her very much.” She added, however, that women with ambition shouldn’t consider the glass ceiling. “When I developed ambition, I didn’t think about my being a woman and that it could interfere” with her career, Dorner said.

“I think it involves more of a cultural problem,” she explained, “which starts when a couple works and the culture places more of the burden on the wife to both work and take care of the children. It’s part of our unreasonable conservative, patriarchal culture. You can even see it in terminological differences. The woman’s is the second salary. She is [considered] the office secretary and he is the strategic director.” When it comes to the courts, however, at least on the district court level, there are many more women judges than in the past, she notes.

Dorner was reminded that she was forced to retire from the Supreme Court at age 70. Although from a human rights standpoint, she said, retirement age should be based on an individual’s circumstances, she still sides with women’s groups that oppose raising the retirement age for women “because women are not finding work at an advanced age and a deferral of [retirement] benefits relegates them to poverty. Men too have a hard time finding work at an older age and they shouldn’t be neglected either.”

She described her chances of being elected president – around a dozen people are running, officially or unofficially, for the post, which is determined by a secret Knesset vote – as “very modest,” adding that the parties try to impose party discipline on the Knesset members. If she doesn’t win she will not take it as a personal failure, she said.

Eyal Toueg