The story of Israel's founding usually goes something like this: Sun-kissed male and female pioneers plowed the fields by day, danced the hora by night, did guard duty until dawn and together built an egalitarian Utopia.
The equality of men and women, the narrative continues, was enshrined into law upon independence in 1948 when women were given full equal social and political rights. Three years later, gender discrimination
was outlawed. Meanwhile, as part of universal conscription, women also fought alongside men. To top the story off, Israel was the third country in the post-World War II world to be led by a female prime minister, following Ceylon and India: Golda Meir was elected Israel's fourth prime minister in 1969 after long stints as labor minister and foreign minister.
Although some of this is true, Israel is not an egalitarian Utopia, least of all in the political field. No woman since Meir has served as the country's head of state; no woman besides Meir and current Knesset member Tzipi Livni has served as foreign minister, and no woman has ever led the ministries of defense or finance. Only four members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current cabinet are women, and just one, Ayelet Shaked, holds an influential position--minister of justice.
Women are better represented in the Knesset, making up 28 percent of members, the highest proportion ever. Although this is higher than in the U.S. Congress, it's lower than in many European countries, and women head only two of the 12 permanent parliamentary committees--the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and the State Control Committee.
The worst disparity is in local government, where the political issues are closer to home, which should, at least in theory, make politics more attractive to women candidates. Of Israel's 50 largest cities, only one has a female mayor, Netanya's Miriam Feirberg. (In March 2017, the police recommended that Feirberg be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust; the decision is still pending.) Just 17 percent of city council members nationwide are women. And although 65 percent of civil servants are female, only 12 percent hold executive positions, according to WePower, an Israeli group working toward a goal of 50 percent political representation for women in Israel.
There are many reasons for these abysmal numbers. For one, it is not true that women ever were considered political equals in Israel, says Sharon Geva, a lecturer...