Battle for Women’s Dignity Is on in Knesset

Zehava Galon
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Coalition whip Idit Silman (Yamina)
Coalition whip Idit Silman (Yamina)Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Zehava Galon

Coalition whip Idit Silman (Yamina) last week found herself under attack from the misogynist wing of the Knesset, headed by Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) and Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism), during a meeting of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, which she chairs. Porush called Silman “a little girl” and was removed from the hearing; Smotrich referred to “her ugly, violent impulses,” and described her management of the Arrangements Committee as “contemptible and thuggish.” Their collaborator, Galit Distal Atbaryan (Likud), said Silman has “the insight of an ant.”

Credit: Noga Tarnapolsky

What both Bezalel (“arrested with 700 liters of gasoline to stop Gaza pullout”) Smotrich and Meir (“Within a decade there won’t be any secular mayors”) Porush have in common is not just religious fundamentalism, it is first and foremost the perception that women cannot serve as public leaders, and that a woman in a public position is a disgrace to the public. That’s the fundamental meaning of the saying “All a king’s daughter’s honor is within:” Stay home and don’t you dare lift your head up.

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Smotrich’s particularly toxic wing, the Noam faction – a faction so repulsive that Smotrich stuffed it into the trunk during his latest campaign; even Itamar Ben-Gvir was considered more suitable – announced two months ago that it would demand cancellation of the cabinet resolution assuring fair representation for women and protecting them from violence. This was at a time that Noam still believed Benjamin Netanyahu would need them for the coalition; it was their prerequisite. Women, to the back of the bus. They didn’t say “barefoot and pregnant,” apparently because they didn’t think public opinion was yet ripe for it.

The Knesset, which has always been controlled by men, is a very aggressive arena and often hostile to women. When Shulamit Aloni was first sworn in, the fundamentalists railed against her “too short” dress. In 1999 when I was elected to the Knesset and spoke about security issues, a general-turned-minister growled at me, “What do you even know about security?” In 2015, lawmaker Zvi Hendel mimicked lawmaker Tamar Zandberg during a meeting of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, which she was chairing, and was removed from the hearing. Women are still more vulnerable, even in the Knesset, to mockery that would never be directed at men.

I’m not part of Silman’s political camp, but I know that if we don’t erect an iron wall against the Smotriches and Noam, an iron wall that will block all their efforts to push women backward, they will swallow their prey and proceed to the next victim. That’s how it is with fundamentalists.

It is the feminist revolution and the demand for gender equality that is causing them to lose their bearings. It is still one of the youngest revolutions, and its achievements – primarily the radical notion that women’s rights are human rights – are still under attack by men who haven’t internalized that the Bronze Age is over.

Feminism isn’t accepted naturally in a country that by law still considers women property (“A woman is acquired three ways,” it says in the Talmud), in which a woman cannot free herself from torment, and where only last week was it finally determined that a married woman who has an affair with another man doesn’t lose her rights – which the man always retains, no matter what he does.

The struggle to defend Idit Silman is the fight to defend the rights of all of us.

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