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Let Israel's Female Politicians Speak for Ourselves

Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir
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Idit Silman with Yesh Atid lawmaker Idan Roll in the Knesset two weeks ago.
Idit Silman with Yesh Atid lawmaker Idan Roll in the Knesset two weeks ago.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir

Since the formation of the government, its members have faced great hardship in their efforts to clean up the mess of their predecessors. Coalition chair Idit Silman of Yamina, in particular, has recently been the target of a methodical campaign of insults organized by the opposition who are taking a familiar tack: When you have nothing to say in your defense, humiliate your rival.

In the case of Silman and many other female legislators, the opposition has taken the easiest route: to undermine her authority by portraying her as a little girl who is in over her head. The media, as could be expected, pounced on the story. What a scoop! Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar said something stupid into a microphone again. Every new bit of mud slung by Silman’s assailants was tweeted out at a dizzying pace (pardon me, but I won’t repeat the comments), together with the requisite expressions of shock. Is that how they talk to women in our Knesset? Pinch me so I’ll believe it.

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At first glance, one might infer that Silman won in the court of public opinion. Many people defended her. But, in fact, she, and every woman in politics, is harmed by this discussion. Whether she reacted properly or not, when she is forced to defend herself from attempts to depict her as a little girl she is trapped in the place her attackers have placed her. Sticking a diminutive label on her forehead prevents the public from hearing her opinions without prejudice. For the attackers, this method always wins: Their supporters will treat Silman as a little girl from now on, and her supporters will see her as a victim. But Silman, a 40-year-old woman, is not a victim but is rather a powerful senior legislator.

The argument that Silman could explain her opinions in the media is also unpersuasive. When a female politician is invited to give an interview under the rubric of “responding to being ordered to ‘be a good girl,’” she has already forfeited the match. She will be forced to defend herself rather than address the subject at hand. What people will remember is the circus in the Knesset committee, even if it wasn’t her fault. In other words, the ability to choose how she is defined and what to engage with has been taken from her.

And that is precisely what Zohar and his ilk wanted to happen. That is how they control her public image. That’s one of the main legacies of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: mudslinging. Hurl enough lies at your political rivals (“pedophile,” “partner of Hamas”) and eventually something will stick. It is particularly effective against women. If we disturb our political rivals, they simply respond with belittling labels (“noisy,” “little girls,” “inexperienced").  And it works. It’s no coincidence that of the senior cabinet positions in the current government, only one is held by a woman, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli.

The attacks against Silman reflect our reality and the example set by Israeli leaders. But that’s all right, we know this already.

No longer do we allow headlines like the “Record number of female cabinet members” (one-third of the total) and “A record four female pilots” (just 10 percent of graduates of a training course) obfuscate the reality that we live in a sexist society.

The solution lies in balance. If the news reports focused on Silman’s actions and opinions, with the meaningless insults hurled against her only in the background, that would be one thing. But that’s not the situation. After all, Silman has been in the Knesset since 2019, but we still have not been given a genuine opportunity to hear her opinions.

When the slurs and the circus are presented as news, it is an injustice to the struggle for equality. If someone wants to help women, there’s a simple way: Let us speak for ourselves, instead of giving the stage to those who curse us.

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