Israeli Women: Vote as if Your Life Depends on It

After a year when gender issues moved front and center as rarely before in Israel, the question of whether Israel looks forward or backtracks to appease a minority on these issues depends on your vote.

Shari Eshet
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Shari Eshet

Mark Twain is alleged to have said: “If voting made any difference they wouldn't let us do it.” With all due respect to the great American humorist and writer, I beg to differ. The most recent American elections showed otherwise – voting counts.

By all political analyses, President Obama was re-elected in part because those who chose him voted not only in favor of his economic policies, but against the policies of the Republican candidate on health care, pay equity, immigration, reproductive choice, marriage equality, and gender equity issues. The women’s vote of 54 percent for Barack Obama and only 44 percent for his opponent made it clear – gender matters, and women believed Obama’s record and his policies represent a public agenda that will uphold the needs of the women, children, and families in the United States today.

It is also reported that over 53 percent of US voters cast a ballot based on the economy, with foreign policy (and in particular the issues around Israel) being of importance to only ten percent of voters. How wonderful it would be for us here in Israel if our foreign policy issues were only ten percent of what is at stake in our elections on January 22. However, our national security and foreign policy concerns – namely Iran, the Palestinian conflict, and the ongoing conflicts with our other neighbors – have been at the core of our existence since the establishment of modern Israel, 65 years ago. I assume they will continue to lead the list of our problems in this election.

But nevertheless we in Israel have our civil society and social justice issues to contend with as well, and this year in particular, gender issues have moved front and center. The right of women to pray at the Western Wall in the fashion that they choose, to sit wherever they want on public transportation, and to marry and divorce as they choose are topics discussed in the media and by grassroots organizations on a daily basis. They have been the subject of Israeli Supreme Court decisions and Knesset debate. They are front and center because women put them there, helped by the extreme positions taken by those who would keep women in the back of the bus, off the public platform, out of sight, and out of mind if possible. Those extremists woke up the majority of the Israeli population – women and their male allies – and forced the politicians to take notice.

On January 22, just a few days away, we, the people of Israel, will be called upon to vote in democratic elections – the only country in the Middle East with truly democratic elections. So again, despite the pessimism of Mark Twain, the power of the people lies in the right to vote. For women, who are over half of the 69 percent of the Israeli population who voted in the last election, here are my suggestions to you.

First: read carefully the mission statements of all the relevant parties that are running for office. Make sure that they include agendas that will affect women , families and other socio-economic-justice issues.

And second: vote. Vote as if your life depends on it – because it does. The future of the State of Israel and its character depends on your vote. Whether Israel looks forward or backtracks to appease a minority will depend on your vote. It is not just a right to be exercised or ignored – it is an obligation to the future.

Shari Eshet is the director of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Israel Office. NCJW is the lead convener of the Task Force on Gender Equality in Israel, a group of more than 20 American organizations working to address gender inequality in Israel. 

Women graduates of an Israel defence forces, officers course. first on right Yael Dayan,1957.Credit: GPO