Celebration is justified, after white smoke emerged from the chimney of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office and Karnit Flug was appointed governor of the Bank of Israel. Not because, for the first time in Israeli history, a woman will head Israel’s central bank – after all, the country managed to get along without a governor for nearly four months – but rather because “another woman” has been added to Israel’s senior leadership cadre. Alongside the chief executive officers of banks and the directors-general of government ministries, another woman has made a breakthrough.
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As one might expect in the appointment of a woman to a top job, Flug was subjected to a humiliating initiation rite, conducted by men, and was forced to endure insults and to stand in the corner before finally being tipped for this senior position.
It would be interesting to consider what would have happened if she had told the people who appointed her Bank of Israel governor, “You know, you can just jump in the lake. I have not desire whatsoever to be the female default choice.” But how could she turn down such an opportunity?
No, I am not talking about the job per se but about the breakthrough it represents - about making history as the first woman to serve as governor of the Bank of Israel. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring Israel into the family of the world’s enlightened nations.
Breaking through the gender glass ceiling hovering is an accepted index for measuring a country’s liberality – along with such other benchmarks as the status of children, freedom of speech and the rights of minorities. According to the glass ceiling index, Israel ranks fairly high. Israeli women may constitute only 20 percent of the senior executives in the country’s major companies and only 16 percent of these companies’ boards of directors (according to a survey published in March by the Israeli food and beverages manufacturer Strauss Group and the Israel Women’s Network, an advocacy group for women’s rights,) but, compared with other countries cited in the survey, Israel is in fourth place. Not bad.
Yet, before we pull out the champagne bottles, we should consider the sobering fact that Israel’s relatively high ranking when it comes to the status of women does not turn it into a liberal paradise on earth. The reason is that such surveys can be misleading. They tear off a branch from a tree in the forest and display that branch as being representative of the entire forest.
Take, for example, the index of women’s participation in political activity. According to figures issued by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Israel and the United Kingdom each have 22.5 percent women's representation in the lower house of parliament (or the only one, in the case of Israel’s Knesset,) ranking the two countries 58th out of a total of 142 countries listed. Rwanda is in first place with 56.3 percent, followed by Andorra and Cuba, with 50 percent and 48.9 percent respectively. Iraq is in 45th place with 25.2 percent.
It is doubtful whether anyone would define Rwanda, Cuba and Iraq as liberal countries. Similarly, the appointment of a woman to head its central bank does not grant Israel that title. Women head the central banks In Malaysia, Russia, South Africa and Botswana, but in none of those countries is liberalism exactly the pillar of fire by whose light their affairs are conducted.
The appointment of women as the CEOs of banks that prefer not to have Arab customers is not a demonstration of progress. The appointment of women as the directors-general of government ministries that do not promote the hiring of Arabs or, as in the case of the Ministry of Education, strive for the exclusion of women, cannot be considered liberalism or social progress. No pride can be taken in the appointment of a woman to the post of director-general of the Ministry of Finance, when the Finance Minister, Yair Lapid, regards Arabs as bad news; likewise to the post of director-general of the Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources, when the the number of its Arab employees is an embarrassment and when the percentage of Arab workers on the payroll of the companies under the ministry’s jurisdiction, such as the Israel Electric Corporation and the Mekorot water company, is only 1.5 to 2 percent.
Incidentally, out of over 700 employees at the Bank of Israel, the new symbol of Israeli liberalism, only a handful are Arabs. A regrettable fact but, hey, Israel now has a female Bank of Israel governor.
It should be recalled that Flug’s appointment as governor is not another victory in the war for women’s equality in society. Her professional skills, her vast experience and the many recommendations she received were of no avail in the first round in the saga of her appointment. She was appointed to this post because two men could not reach a compromise.
History was not made with this appointment. History will be made only when the appointment of a woman generates a sea-change in a place where men have been unable to advance the organization; when female CEOs or directors-generals, the medals on Israel’s chest, take it upon themselves to advance members of minority groups, the handicapped and women in their government ministries, banks and companies.