Rachel Dolev
Yedioth Ahronoth (Opinion)
August 23, 2012 - 12:00am

"The prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister each have their own specific authorities; there is the forum of nine ministers and there is the Cabinet and the decision, when it has to be made, will be made by the government of Israel – that's the way it has always been and that's the way it should be; not any group of citizens is going to dictate the decision nor even any press editorial." Thus said (Israeli) Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the special parliamentary session convened to approve the appointment of Avi Dichter as home front defense minister. The message Barak seeks to deliver is quite clear: The decision regarding an attack on Iran will be made by the elected echelon and any pressures exerted will be to no avail. However, his statement points the spotlight on another issue. Let's see, who is sitting in all those forums mentioned by Barak? Who is actually making the decisions there? And is it a mere accident that there are no women in any of those panels?

Here, in brief, is the makeup of the forums Barak was talking about: The prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister – all three are men. The members of the forum of nine ministers are Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, Foreign Minister Liberman, Finance Minister Steinitz, Interior Minister Ishai, Minister of Strategic Affairs Ya'alon, Minister without Portfolio Begin, Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Meridor and the recent newcomer, Home Front Defense Minister Dichter – all of them men. As to the cabinet, it comprises 14 ministers, none of them a woman. Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (a woman) has an observer status but no voting rights.

When the news channels broadcast some time ago the funeral procession (held in Jerusalem July 18) of Rabbi Elyashiv (one of the most important figures in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world), which was attended by tens of thousands, many critically noted the absence of women, who were not allowed to accompany their leader on his final journey, as an indication of the apparent "narrow-mindedness" and "backwardness" of the ultra-Orthodox community. But are secular Israelis any better than the ultra-Orthodox? Can we really pride ourselves on the fact that we rely on men alone to decide our fate for us, to choose between war and peace, to determine the destiny of tens of thousands of Israeli citizens, whether it will be to live or to die – and all this, without the voice of a single woman being heard in those clandestine deliberations?

No less troubling is the gap between the promises and the reality, which cannot be passed without notice. While the State of Israel is one of the few in the world to have anchored (in October 2010) in legislation the UN resolution stipulating that women should be given the opportunity to take part in processes of political peace negotiations, the law enacted by the state has remained on paper and never actually implemented. And this, not only because there is no process of political negotiations going on but also due to the prevailing social outlook in Israel and the way women are perceived here.

Yet, in the social discourse in Israel women are surprisingly welcome. Thus, for instance, Knesset Member and Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, Knesset Member and New Movement-Meretz Parliamentary Group Chairperson Zahava Gal-On and social protest leaders Dafne Leef and Stav Shaffir are women whose voices are definitely heard on civilian issues. However, it transpires that security issues are outside the allowed limits for women. There, the line is drawn, marking out the bounds that women cannot trespass and never could, so that inevitably their ability to have some bearing on the social issues is detracted from, since as they have no say on the security budget, they are denied the option of diverting funds for social issues.

Therefore, and with all due respect to the new member in the ministerial forum of nine, Avi Dichter, it seems that Israel has no need for more of the same. The groundless assumption that only those who served in senior roles in the defense establishment – all of them naturally men – have any understanding in security matters should be discarded. An innovative and creative CEO of a business enterprise does not necessarily have to go through the entire production chain to successfully steer the enterprise he heads; and by the same token, a brilliant woman politician can make history even if she has not shared the martial experiences of her colleagues who are ex-elite unit fighters.

It is still not too late to make amends. Prime Minister Netanyahu should display leadership and invite women to join the decision-making circle. Whatever the decision on Iran ultimately proves to be, women too should be there, at the hub of things, to make the decision along with the men. Just as we expect, and indeed demand that the Supreme Court of Justice reflect the composition of the population, so reality mandates that the government, too, represent the Israeli society in its entirety, not merely one half of it. It is only that way that we can put into effect the democratic values of Israel – at a time of emergency such as the present one, of all times. This task too falls within the prime minister's scope of responsibilities at this fateful hour.


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