Opinion

Israel Doesn’t Like Female Leaders

Ayelet Shaked, Tamar Zandberg and Tzipi Livni.
Nir Keidar / Tomer Appelbaum / Moti Milrod

What do Tzipi Livni, Ayelet Shaked, Orli Levi-Abekasis, Adina Bar-Shalom and Tamar Zandberg have in common? They came to the political arena to be politicians, not to decorate the party slates of men. But as of now, they’ve either been spit out of the political system or their status has been undermined.

Livni gave up; Levi-Abekasis and Bar-Shalom didn’t survive the tornado that swallowed up smaller parties; Shaked made a mistake when she stressed her beauty in that “perfume commercial,” breaking the unwritten rule that just as magicians don’t reveal the way they pull rabbits out of hats, politicians aren’t meant to use their attractiveness and sex appeal except perhaps as a subtle enhancement of their “serious” capabilities.

The most painful failure was that of Zandberg, who was knocked out as Meretz leader even though she had managed to bring an unexpected Knesset seat from the Arab community and saved her party from obliteration.

>> Read more: Senior Israeli rabbi says whirlwind of politics 'is not for women' ■ Israel's justice minister sprays 'Fascism' perfume in provocative ad campaign

The bottom line is that the last elections ejected independent women who had fashioned unique political messages associated with them; instead, the Knesset got obedient women who murmur talking points. Some of the new female MKs had impressive accomplishments before they entered politics, but their voices weren’t heard with regard to any important decision. An example is MK Miki Haimovich, who during Kahol Lavan’s election campaign expressed the opinion that gas should not be extracted from the Leviathan gas field, and was immediately silenced. This writer had the dubious privilege of briefly being a member of a general’s party, where I quickly learned that expressing an independent opinion would not be tolerated.

The displacement of independent women stands in stark contrast to the women’s revolution taking place in the Middle East. Iranian women sing and dance in public without a hijab and turn their appearance into a protest against the ayatollahs’ regime; Kurdish women in Syria are fighting against the Islamic State and against Syrian President Bashar Assad and his associates and are leading the Kurdish struggle for independence.

In Israel, however, the wheel is turning backwards; the political arena is awash with parties like Shas and Degel Hatorah with a clear male hegemony. Other parties are headed by generals with glittering ranks, who conduct themselves in politics as they did in the army – in tight clusters without leaving any unique stamp.

Like in any herd, each group huddles around an alpha male. Ehud Barak, the founder of the new super-party, is full of energy and enthusiasm, but reminds us of his past failures for which Israelis paid a bloody price. Kahol Lavan had given us Gabi Ashkenazi, who is remembered primarily for the Harpaz forged-document affair and for his performance as chairman of the failing Shemen Industries. Together with Benny Gantz, we’re talking about generals whose army service was a springboard to the business world, and it’s doubtful that they can serve as stellar examples of integrity, in the name of which they are seeking to replace a corrupt regime.

It’s commonly believed that women bring a human and compassionate dimension to politics. This is a stereotype; political women are no more compassionate or merciful than men.

On the other hand, their importance cannot be measured solely by their ability to pass legislation that advances women’s rights, but by the basic message of gender equality that stems from their presence in senior positions. We, the women, must wake up and declare that we will not vote in the next elections for any party in which women are merely political ornaments whose role is confined to mumbling the party line.