Women's Parties in Israel: Their Unrecognized Significance and Potential

By Hertzog, Esther | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Women's Parties in Israel: Their Unrecognized Significance and Potential


Hertzog, Esther, The Middle East Journal


Women's parties have played a significant role on the Israeli political scene since the beginning of the 20th century until the present. Moreover, women's parties had far reaching impact on both the status of women and wider society. However, the significance of women's parties has been underrated by academia and the media, and their potential prospects have been continuously denied. Women's antagonistic attitudes towards women's parties are, in particular, conspicuous. The article describes and analyzes this phenomenon.

Women's parties have been an integral part of Israeli politics from the 1920s, in the pre-state period, until present times. Moreover, women's parties have had a far-reaching impact on women's issues, in particular, and on social processes in general. However, most of the studies dealing with the issue of women in politics either ignore women's parties or refer to them mainly in terms of marginality and failure. This article describes the phenomenon of women's parties in Israel, before and after the establishment of the state, and suggests that the impact of these parties has been underrated and that their relevance and potential, from the perspective of women's collective interests as well as from a wider political point of view, have been delegitimized.

The article is based both on studies about women in Israeli politics in Israel since the 1920s until recently, and on personal experience. I was involved in the establishment of two women's parties, in 1992 and in 1999, was second on the list of the 1992 party (headed by Ruth Reznik), and headed the 1999 party. Both parties were founded by Shin, the Israeli Movement for Equal Representation of Women, founded in 1989 and headed by me until recently.

ISRAELI WOMEN - A MAJOR SECTOR WITHOUT A PARTY

Parties representing sectoral interests characterize the Israeli political system, probably more than in any other country. All the main sectors in Israeli society are represented in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, through sectoral parties, except for the women's sector. Women's parties have been absent from the Israeli parliament since the second Knesset (1951-1955).

Women constitute half of the population in Israel. They share distinct common interests, and experience common discrimination, among which are: wage discrimination, limited economic mobility opportunities, male violence, discrimination by religious and military authorities, and sexual violence and exploitation.1

Out of 19 parties in the 15th Knesset (May 1999 to January 2003), three parties represented the interests of the Israeli Palestinian sector, which comprises approximately 20% of the population; four parties represented the interests of the religious sector, which consists of approximately 20% of the population; three parties represented the interests of the immigrants' sector, which constitutes approximately 15% of the population; two parties represented the interests of the ethnic, eastern (Sephardi or Mizrahi) sector, which comprises approximately 40% of the population.2 Thus, only seven of the 19 parties in the 15th Knesset can be considered as "non-sectoral."

The elections to the 16th Knesset (in January 2003) changed the political map to some extent, but not the fact that women's parties were absent from the competing parties, whereas even a men's party participated in the elections (though it did not enter the Knesset). Out of the 27 competing parties, 13 succeeded in passing the 1.5% threshold to be included in the new Knesset. Out of the 27 competing parties, 11 can be described as clearly sectoral (representing the religious, Israeli-Palestinian, immigrant, male, young, and ethnic sectors). The 1992 electoral law providing for voting separately for the prime minister and for the Knesset party was changed before the 2003 elections to allow only a single unified vote and this had some impact on the results. The outcome was a reduction in the number of parties that entered the Knesset and the failure of some sectoral parties to enter. …

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