When Women Speak Out on the Core Issue

Why do female politicians remain mum about Iran?

Of all the heaps of words written and spoken about the Iranian nuclear program only a few have come from women. Women write about the protest for social justice, they analyze the unsatisfactory situation of women worldwide and a few even dare to weigh in on more "masculine" issues, like pensions and taxes. But hardly any woman dares to deal with the hard core: Life and death are still controlled by men. Why? Because we don't understand defense and security.

Our female elected officials - the loser (former Kadima chair MK Tzipi Livni ) and the winner (Labor chair MK Shelly Yacimovich ) have thus far maintained a vague silence and apart from statements like "all the options are on the table" and "a military solution has to be the last option," they have not supported the aggressiveness espoused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention - nor have they condemned it.

Tzipi Livni

When Yacimovich had no choice but to relate to the matter, she said that the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat has sparked endless chatter when silence is golden. But how can the person who has pretensions of becoming prime minister be silent in the face of frightening show Netanyahu put on in the name of the State of Israel? Why has her sharp tongue, which has wonderfully (and rightly ) castigated Netanyahu in the area of social issues, gone silent? Maybe she even agrees with him. We will never know.

Even if Yacimovich had opened her mouth, presumably whatever she said would not have been taken as seriously as the remarks of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, or even Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin. In Israel there is a long-standing tradition of excluding women from the security and defense sphere which, despite the rise in the importance of social issues, is still the existential bread and butter. Women cannot be authorities on defense issues.

Shelly Yacimovich
Olivier Fitoussi

Not a single woman is a member of the security-diplomatic cabinet. (Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat is an observer who does not have the right to vote. ) In the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which consists of 16 members, two are women. At the General Staff, which consists of 14 commanders, there is one woman, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the personnel directorate. This is an important position, which is not to be sneezed at, but it can be equated with the position of human resources manager at many companies where the men are in charge of the core activities.

Though the Israel Defense Forces is the only army in the world with compulsory conscription for women, a woman has never served in a senior operational position. In England there have already been several women at the helm of the British intelligence organization MI5. Can anyone imagine a woman heading the Shin Bet security service or the Mossad?

The reasons for this illogical situation are not obvious. We live in an era in which warfare is based on advanced technology rather than on physical combat and strength which might give men a certain edge. Women don't make an effort to enter the field. Alice Miller made it as far as the High Court of Justice fighting for the right to apply for the air force pilots' course. Before her and after her hundreds and thousands of women have preferred to make coffee and get through their military service inconspicuously.

Integration into the security and defense sphere would not only benefit women themselves. Women are considered less aggressive and they have the cultural legitimization to express emotions - assets that could cool many conflicts before they flare up into murderous conflagrations. Now, as the swords are being sharpened, the time has come for women to be included in the nucleus of decision-makers and not to content themselves with blindly listening to generals. Who knows? Maybe if more women - and not necessarily those who don iron-clad masculine armor - were to take part in running the world, their sisters would not have to spend these days fretting about cleaning the bomb shelters.