One of the things I’m most proud about when it comes to Israel is the country’s impressive record of women in public leadership roles. Female Supreme Court Justice, check. Female head of government, check. Female anchor of a major nightly news program, check. Female owner of the country’s largest bank, check. Female chief rabbi…well, maybe not yet.
Of course, these achievements reflect only a tiny, elite slice of Israeli society. There’s much to be done to achieve equality and respect for all women in Israel, and the New Israel Fund has been at the forefront of that struggle since our very first year of grants.
Which is why it is so alarming that our grantees are finding it necessary to re-fight battles we won long ago. We are astonished to find ourselves protesting efforts in Israel to remove women from public view and from prominent roles in public life.
But if we have to refight some of these battles, the good news is that we are winning, and this week’s NIF News details some of the latest rounds:
A suit filed against El Al Airlines by a women forced to move to the back of the plane in order to accommodate the request of an ultraorthodox passenger for gender-segregated seating; a successful campaign by NIF grantee to sue Jerusalem bus companies that refused to accept ads with pictures of women; ongoing efforts to provide the most economically marginalized women with access to education and job opportunities.
Achieving equal rights and status for women is a long process of social change, and it doesn’t always move in the same direction. Many of us welcomed the recent news that there will be a female moderator for one of the US presidential debates this year. But at the same time we noted a more significant reality: after last election’s experiment with women as Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, the ones up on the stage this time around are all still men.
Like many of the long-term efforts to shape Israeli society you support through NIF, achieving true, widespread and stable gains for women in Israel requires constant vigilance. And like many other NIF issues such as civil rights and social justice, we can be proud of Israel’s record while we insist that it can and should be better.
As we continue to mark progress, I say we do it with the example of a young woman leader in mind: American Jewish gymnast and Olympic gold-medal winner Aly Raisman proved recently that you can combine excellence with courage, style and a generous spirit. As Aly demonstrated in London, it’s a formula for winning. And it’s one that brings the whole world into your victory, cheering.
Rabbi David Rosenn
PS – In case you were wondering: Dorit Beinisch, Golda Meir, Miki Haimovitch, Shari Arison and TBA