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Ladies’ Day at the Israeli Consulate

In a post-feminist tableau at the Israeli Consulate, the press and invited guests were treated to unwitting self-parody by the males and some less-than-sisterly stabs from the General’s daughter at the Israel Consulate in New York in June. The Consulate was showing off the distinguished group of women who had been chosen to represent Israel at the UN Beijing+5 Conference, which was called to assess what progress the nations of the world have made since the Beijing Women’s Conference five years ago. Not much, if we judge by the opening comments of Israel Consult General Shmuel Sisso.

Sisso welcomed the room full of women with the observation that “we usually gather in this room to talk about big issues—the economy, the peace process.”

Yael Dayan, Chairperson of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, chaired the meeting in her articulate Hebrew-accented English. She defined herself as “a radical feminist. But I have to go slowly, compromise.” Wearing a red sweater with the Israel Women’s Network pin that integrates a dove with the women’s symbol, Dayan sparred with the Israeli women who, in theory, are her partners-in-arms. She was unimpressed when her colleague, delegate Zivia Cohen, Chairperson of the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel, excitedly shared with the group her personal breakthrough from the UN meeting: “Um Jihad, the Palestinian [National Authority] Minister of Social Affairs, gave me her number at work and at home.” Dayan’s so-what response: “Jihad lives an hour from Tel Aviv.” Gen. Moshe Dayan’s daughter takes no prisoners. You’d want her on your side.

Dayan spoke about her latest battle against trafficking in women. The penalties and even the language of the law, which recently passed, are based on drug legislation: prison terms years for “buying and selling, not just employing” women in sex trades.

An interesting tension arose between the Israelis and the American women asking questions about women’s religious rights in Israel. These struggles, including legislative and judicial fights to allow women to pray out loud at the Western Wall, preoccupied many of the American women in the audience. To Dayan, however, they seemed only a passing nuisance. She said, “I’m not religious person but I’ll fight for your right to pray the way you want….People on my side of the political map believe in the eventual separation of state and region and that religion will survive the separation.”

At the end, Dayan archly introduced Ambassador Ronald Lauder, wondering if he was there to “give us a blessing.” Lauder told the assemblage, “It’s always good to see a lot of women….I’m in the cosmetics business.”