It is ridiculous that no fewer than 34 parties will be competing for votes in next week’s election. This is because winning even 2 percent of the vote will give them a seat in the Knesset and a public platform from which to disseminate their ideas, worthy or otherwise.
Yet, despite the multiplicity of lists, there is, strangely enough, no feminist party as there was in several elections when the militant ladies campaigned vigorously. However, at the very end of the campaign, it turns out that there is a de facto feminist party: Kadima, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The latest polls show that women make up 59 percent of those who say that they will cast their votes for Livni, in contrast to just 39 percent for Labor and 45 percent for the Likud, both of which are led, of course, by men.
These statistics have given a jolt to Livni, who is now putting more emphasis on women’s issues than she did in the past. These include a call for tax relief for working mothers, better and more numerous kindergartens, equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, and abortion rights.
Religious issues also have their place here, as Kadima has pledged its support for a bill that would support civil marriage, public transport on the Sabbath, and an end to the problem of agunot, woman whose husbands refuse to give them a divorce and therefore are unable to remarry.
Ultra-Orthodox women are in a particularly unique situation. In the early years of the state, their husbands didn’t allow them to vote, but in view of their need for more support, the men changed their minds. So while there are no women among the ultra-Orthodox candidates for the Knesset, or, for that matter, even photographs of women in ultra-Orthodox publications, the head-covered women do turn out to vote.
Prof. Alice Shalvi, founder of the Israeli Women’s Network and one of the country’s leading feminists, sees no point in another specific women’s party.
“So what if they are wildly successful and win three seats?” she asks. “That won’t give the feminists any real influence on major issues. It would be better that they vote for the least objectionable candidate and try to exert their influence through the party which they have supported.”
Veteran feminists like Labor Party stalwart Shelly Yacimovich are quite caustic about Livni’s recent conversion to feminism. In the last Knesset, Yacimovich points out, Livni actually opposed legislation to give tax relief to working mothers who have to employ outside help.
Today, in any case, Yacimovich and Livni are on the same side of the political fence, and those who might have supported a feminist party will almost certainly vote for Labor or Kadima.