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A few days ago, I braved the wind and rain to attend what I hear are really fantastic events in Tel Aviv. I hear only good things about the Tel Aviv International Salons, and I really like the topics they cover, so I went to their Women in Politics & Israeli Society event a few days ago with Stav Shaffir of Avoda and Tamar Zandberg of Meretz. The event was moderated by Dr. Galit Desheh, the Executive Director of the Israel Women’s Network, who was billed as a speaker. I would have loved to hear more from her, and about recent studies the NGO has produced, but alas we got underway grilling the politicians rather quickly.

Ballots (Photo courtesy of Haaretz/Tess Scheflan)

Ballots (Photo courtesy of Haaretz/Tess Scheflan)

What irked me was that I’d traveled all the way to Tel Aviv, which is frustrating through traffic regardless of the weather, and we were treated to a barely surface-level analysis of what role women would play. We were talked down to as hyphenated Israelis (the lecture was in English, so I guess we weren’t off to a great start..) and the audience proved there was need to.

At one point, Stav Shaffir was answering a question presented by Dr. Desheh about women in the military and referred to Sayeret Matkal. I don’t know if someone asked in the front what it was, but she corrected herself – “oh, the special forces.” Yes, dear. We may be English speakers, but we braved the weather to come to a political event to learn about a specific topic important enough to us that we want to know what you have to say about your party we’re considering voting for in two weeks’ time and its stance on that topic. So we may have a general sense of how the Israeli military system works. A handful of us may have served. Maybe.

Sadly, however, Shaffir may have read that room decently well. The second or third audience member to ask a question was an American guy who wanted to know whether the women on the panel thought the policy of affirmative action for women on the lists of Israeli political parties was appropriate, since in the States, we had a policy of affirmative action for “blacks in high school” and it only worked because it ended. This was a stupid question. For a number of reasons. First, the “effectiveness” or “success” of American affirmative action is a hotly debated subject. Also, we’re talking politics, not Little Rock Central High School in 1957. At least compare apples to apples, please. A better question would have at least referred to European countries who’ve instituted these policies of quotas for women long ago, some through electoral law and some through the parties individually, just like here in Israel. These parties decided to hold certain places for women on their lists. So, yes, there’s been a long history of positions in government being held for women. So let’s at least have a discussion in that framework. I would’ve loved to hear from Dr. Desheh at that point about how the make-up of the Knesset has changed, how we went from our birth with a Knesset of 11 women to only 17 women today. A Haaretz article raised the point that we may lose women in the next Knesset, as well, so I think her thoughts and analysis would’ve been especially insightful at that point. Tamar Zandberg put it very succinctly at the end of the lecture as to what women are looking for in politics, and when affirmative action would no longer be necessary – the day that a mediocre woman has as much chance to get into politics, to affect policy, as a mediocre man does, we no longer need a boost.

So I’m still absolutely unsure as to how I’m going to vote. I know more and more who I don’t want to vote for, and have growing lists of why for each party. The Tel Aviv International Salon needs to be commended for bringing those individuals together so we could try to have a chat, and its upcoming event – Avoda v Likud – is one I wish I could go to. But I live in Jerusalem, and I can’t get out there next week. But maybe, to help me decide on a party, I should go back and read some Gates posts of Sophia’s.. Maybe that’ll help 🙂

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