The traditional picture of the government ministers taken at the President’s Residence last week speaks for itself. Here they stand, our public servants, who (almost) never serve the public. Here they stood, our female ministers, alongside their male counterparts, a dash of color, like a decoration swallowed by a sea of dark suits. Although someone thought to put them front and center behind the president and the prime minster (ladies first, after all), their positioning didn’t change a thing.
During a week when Israel was visited by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, and just after Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström announced her feminist foreign policy, Israel’s three female ministers stood there in the picture, looking uneasy while surrounded by men who know better than they do.
This makes Israel’s claims of belonging to the league of the enlightened, modern West even further from reality, at least in some realms. We’ve got high-tech, the OECD, we’re gay-friendly and liberal – but on the other hand, that picture taken in the President’s Residence stares us in the face. Three out of the 22 ministers in the picture are women (in the meantime, another minister has joined the government).
One sector of the Israeli reality didn’t even have room for these three: Ultra-Orthodox newspapers erased them from the picture, and enlightened Israel sucked its teeth, appalled at the Haredi ignorance. Right, erasing the women is ignorant. It’s doubtful if any other country would allow it to happen. But even in the secular Israeli reality, supposedly enlightened, the picture isn’t that much brighter. Three out of 23. Thirteen percent. In the 21st century. In a country that purports to be part of the West.
Here are the numbers: The average for the EU, from May 2013, was that women occupied 27 percent of senior ministerial positions – double the percentage of women in Israel’s 34th government. In France, Denmark, Finland and Norway, there was almost full equality. In Sweden, Austria and Lichtenstein, women were 40 percent of the ministers, while Germany and Holland were almost at that figure. Only Greece, Slovakia, Estonia, Cyprus and Hungary had about one woman for every 10 men in ministerial positions, similar to the Israeli rate. In terms of world numbers, Israel is in 47th place, between Gabon and Slovenia. That’s Israel’s place.
But those figures were for Israel’s last government. Now the situation is worse. We’ve gone from four to three. While the world is marching toward more democratization, Israel’s democracy is taking steps backwards. Not only has Israel’s new government failed to increase representation for women, but there are fewer women in the government this time around.
Not that having female ministers is any kind of guarantee of better government. Israel’s lone female prime minister was one of the worst we’ve ever had. The three women currently in ministerial positions, Ayelet Shaked, Miri Regev and Gila Gamliel, aren’t very promising, either. But the group photo with the president symbolizes that the Israeli elite continues to be men-only, in addition, of course, to being Jewish and Ashkenazi.
Women who have broken through the glass ceiling, from Bank Leumi CEO Rakefet Russak-Aminoach to female fighter pilots to Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, are all the exceptions that prove the rule. When it comes to representation of women, the picture is like a punch in the face: even this small minority is disappearing. How natural does Israel’s basically boys-only government look? How representative, and how Israeli? An alpha government for an alpha state, where everyone is a man’s man, and where “you’re the man” is the highest form of praise – and not an ounce of shame for it.