Editorial

No Woman, No Party

Women who wanted to run as members of ultra-Orthodox parties at the High Court in Jerusalem, July 31, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

10 P.M. is the deadline for submitting party candidates’ lists for the coming general election. While the left worked feverishly to unite the Labor-Gesher and Meretz parties, and the right was similarly obsessed with whether Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich would run together, one axiom remains: The ultra-Orthodox parties will not include a single woman on their tickets. That in 2020 such an extremely twisted practice still takes place without any protest shows how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality in the country.

A year and a half ago the High Court of Justice had to respond to a petition filed by attorney Tamar Ben Porat – joined by 10 women’s organizations – regarding Clause 6 in the Agudat Yisrael party’s charter, which essentially bars any women from becoming party members by specifying that “a party member can be any Jewish man aged 18 and over who observes the Torah and commandments.” The justices suggested that Agudat Yisrael drop that clause from its charter. In response, a representative of the Council of Torah Sages argued that the council, “doesn’t view political activity by a woman favorably,” and that “Agudat Yisrael has the right to set limits to its membership, even if they look outwardly discriminatory.”

While Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit acknowledged that “the charter’s instruction undermines equality,” and that “women in ultra-Orthodox society are a minority within a minority,” he asked the court not to intervene, citing concern for respecting multiculturalism. This is how multiculturalism, which is at the heart of the liberal project, is exploited by the most oppressive and conservative groups in society to continue denying political representation to more than half the population.

It is puzzling that no one on the central election committee has ever wondered how it is that not a single woman has ever been listed on any of the slates of ultra-Orthodox parties, not even just for show. How is it possible that not a single member of the committee has refused to approve a solely male list, in which women cannot be included, even theoretically?

The nonprofit association Not Chosen, Not Voting wrote this week to the heads of the election committee and the ultra-Orthodox parties demanding that this shameful situation be changed. The chances of their demand getting a positive response is zero.

The only way to change this improper situation is by passing a law banning any political group that seeks to deny the basic right of membership to women, who are half the population. Until such a law is passed, the court needn’t suffice with suggestions to eliminate one clause or another; it should make it clear to all Israeli parties that they may not discriminate against or exclude women. Any slate that doesn’t meet this criterion should be disqualified.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.