“The women are coming out in droves to vote,” was the slogan at the women’s gathering for Orli Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher party, held Sunday night at the Barby club in south Tel Aviv. In a reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Election Day video in 2015, in which he warned that "Arabs are coming out in droves to vote,” Levi-Abekasis sent a distress signal to her voters, hoping they will see she is in danger of sinking below the electoral threshold and turn out en masse on her behalf.
It was an unusual political event: A campaign rally for women, conducted by women and addressing only women. This was a call to 51 percent of the population to vote for a party that, according to its campaign promises, plans to make gender issues a priority of its political action.
Gesher takes pride that half of the first 10 spots on its Knesset slate are filled by women, a display of equal representation matched only by Hayamin Hehadash. Since its founding, Gesher has promoted women’s rights as a core issue. Knesset members from other parties maintain that the decision to place the emphasis on the women’s vote a month before the election is more of a strategy to save the party. Either way, the crowd at Barby did not need to be convinced.
Levi-Abekasis entered the club 45 minutes after the rally began, followed by a long line of activists drumming away and carrying campaign signs with her picture. The crowd of women, many of them religious, filled the club completely.
“I believe her, she is a different type of politician,” said an enthusiastic supporter to her friend during the chairwoman’s speech – but the friend was a bit more reserved, reminding her, “She talks the best, but in the rating of social welfare laws she actually came out low.” In the “social index” on legislation published by the Social Guard nonprofit organization for the 20th Knesset, Levi-Abekasis was down in 40th place out of 46 MKs.
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Actress and social activist Hanna Azoulay Hasfari emceed the rally, repeating time after time the main message: “When women succeed, all of society succeeds.”
If the primary message of the rally was aimed at women, the secondary one pointed to Netanyahu. Levi-Abekasis made it clear she was willing to join a coalition with Netanyahu as long as no indictment had yet been filed against him; this, after the painful failure of her talks with Benny Gantz’s party, prior to its alliance with Yesh Atid. But even though the latest polls show her with no more than four Knesset seats, or failing to make the cut altogether, she still views herself as the person who will decide who the next prime minister will be.
“We will dictate the nature of the next government,” she said.
Levi-Abekasis presented the crowd with her plan for social issues with women’s issues at the center, such as education for gender equality starting at a young age. She also presented a plan to reduce wage inequality with an equal pay law; placing women in key positions; establishing courts specializing in sex crimes and significantly increasing the severity of punishment and deterrence for sex crimes and attacks on women and minors; promoting a national authority to address sexual and gender violence; and advancing legislation to subsidize and transfer to the government responsibility for high-quality, supervised daycare for children 3 months and older belonging to working parents.
“We need to build a society in which our girls can fulfill all their dreams without fighting for the right to do so,” Levi-Abekasis said, spicing up her speech with criticism of the large parties who she said have neglected the social issues. “In this election campaign, we have been witnesses to the concentrated effort to push social issues to the side. What is on the agenda is not the ‘fate of the citizens’ but the ‘fate of the country.’ That’s brainwashing. A theory in which the problems of citizens are not important at all,” she said.
Opinion polls that show her party failing to get enough votes to pass the electoral threshold and being kept out of the next Knesset do not seem to impress her. “The small parties determine who will be the prime minster and are responsible for social welfare legislation. Our internal polls show otherwise and even if we look at the worst scenario – 3 percent is just a small distance from the bar of the electoral threshold. The 0.2 percent is lacking. It is enough for everyone to bring one more person and we will not only pass it – we will have five or six Knesset seats,” said Levi-Abekasis.