Politics ’92

Israel: This Time More Women in the Knesset

Eleven of the 120 new Knesset members are women; a sign to Israeli feminists that women have scored real successes in the ’92 elections. Although the number may not seem substantial, there were only eight women in the previous Knesset; women’s representation has increased by almost 40%. Close to 40 women, representatives of 20 parties, competed in the country-wide elections. The eleven elected women come from five parties. Ten of them represent the four largest parties, and two have been appointed Cabinet Ministers. Leslie Sacks, Spokes woman for The Israel Women’s Network, umbrella organization for diverse women’s groups, comments that in Israel, “never before have so many women been so close to the real centers of political power, where they can make decisions that will really affect the lives of women.”

In addition, for the third time in Israeli history (following 1948 with one seat and 1977 with no seats), a Women’s Party ran, though it failed to win a seat. Ruth Rasnic of the Women’s Party says “the fact that we ran pushed women’s issues into the public awareness. The exposure we created forced the other parties to deal with questions that they otherwise would have ignored.”

All of the eleven women elected have been active proponents of the advancement of women. Naomi Blumental (Likud), born in Israel and living in Ramat Efal (near Tel-Aviv), represented Israel on the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women between 1989 and 1991. Yael Dayan (Labor), former officer and spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces (daughter of the legendary politician and general, Moshe Dayan), has long been active in the Network of Women for Peace. Naomi Chazan (Meretz), professor of Political Science and African Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is Head of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and founder of the Network of Women for Peace. The other women include Labor Knesset members Ora Namir, Masha Lubelsky, and Dalia Itzik; Limor Livnat of Likud, Meretz’s Shulamith Aloni and Anat Maor; Tamar Gozansky of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, and Esther Salamovitz of Tzomet. Namir, Minister for the Environment, headed a government-sponsored commission for the study of women’s rights in Israel. Aloni, the liberal and controversial Minister of Education, now oversees all Israeli public schools — including the Orthodox ones.

With its sticker and slogan campaign “Women Choose Parties That Choose Women,” The Israel Women’s Network established in May 1991 a cross-party women’s forum, with one representative from each party. The forum organized workshops for new political activists, sent out a suggested platform on women’s issues to all the parties, and disseminated information on women’s issues to candidates, parties, and the general public. Candidates began to see women as a constituency whose vote the parties wanted to win. Throughout the elections, the media continued to highlight women’s issues.

The issues facing Israeli women include high unemployment rates, wages 30% less than men’s, restrictive marriage and divorce laws, continued violence against women, and the struggle for affirmative action in all fields, including politics. The new Knesset members have formed a women’s lobby to address some of these concerns. Says new MK Maor; “The activities of the election have proven that women from all the parties can unite and work constructively towards common goals. We have proven that without denying the things that divide us, we can also rise above these when necessary and work together on the things that unite us.”

The U.S.A — Women Make Waves

by Deborah Fuller Hahn

The Women’s Caucus of the 1992 Democratic National Convention was the most inspiring event I have attended in many years. Hundreds of women and men gathered for daily briefings on issues of importance to women. Here are gleanings from my notes and from those of women observers from the Commission on Women’s Equality of the American Jewish Congress:

• Women comprise 54% of the voting population.

• Ten million more women than men are eligible to vote in the United States.

At the Women’s Campaign Strategy Workshop, NOW Executive Vice-President Kim Dandy outlined myths told to women to discourage their candidacies, along with responses to them. Some examples to empower us, now and in future races:

MYTH: You have to be traditionally qualified, i.e. a lawyer.

RESPONSE: Women have run successfully by saying that they have skills legislators are lacking. We need fewer lawyers and more nurses, teachers, social workers, and other traditionally female professionals in government.

MYTH: Don’t run for higher office, run for lower office and get experience, and don’t run unless you are positive you can win.

RESPONSE: On average, men run for the first time in their mid-twenties. Women wait until their mid-forties. That hurts women in an arena where seniority is essential for influence. Even if a woman loses an election, she gains visibility for a future campaign.

MYTH: Don’t run as a woman. You need to talk about crime and other “men things.”

RESPONSE: Men are told to discuss women’s issues. If women candidates ignore these issues, they will lose women’s support. Furthermore, certain “women’s issues,” like family leave, are important to all voters in this election.

A few speech highlights from the convention:

Gloria Steinem, on the Clintons: “Bill and Hillary have been living equality for all of their [married] lives . . . [I hope for] a time when the husband of a President can keep his own name.”

Rep. Barbara Boxer, of California: “If the accusation against Clarence Thomas were . .. fixing a basketball game, the charges would have been thoroughly investigated.”

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C.. on “the year of the woman”: “Although there is a lot of sisterhood, there are not enough sisters in the House of Representatives.”

I left the meetings convinced that each of us must make her own contribution — in lime, in energy, in money, and in votes. As Illinois Senatorial candidate Carol Moseley Braun (whose favorite sign at the March for Women’s Lives was “Menopausal Women Nostalgic for Choice”) stated, “the Constitution was written for a small group of white, male property owners. They gave us the right to vote, but not the right to rule.” It is about time for the women of the United States to assume our proper share of the right to rule.

Scene en the Streets

by Hadar Dubowsky

This summer I made a conscious effort to join the mass political activities planned to coincide with the Democratic convention. Every grassroots political group was gearing up for their actions. . . posters and banners were designed and produced, phone trees activated, civil disobedience and clinic defense trainings were offered throughout the city. The Village Voice ran a map of Manhattan with times and locations of demonstrations so that the well-organized activist could manage her time.

Between July 7 and July 17, I helped block Citicorp Bank, awakened at the crack of dawn for abortion clinic defense, joined groups at Columbus Circle for two separate marches and rallies, and received half a dozen phone calls as a leaf on different phone trees. At each action the theme of repossession was the same . . .”Take Back Our Streets,” “Take Back Our Bodies,” “Take Back Our Lives,” “Take Back the White House.”

Rage at worsening economic conditions, AIDS-related deaths, racist violence, and continued attacks on women’s bodies in the streets and in the courts was exploding on the streets of New York. This year’s reminders were fresh in women’s memories. . . the Clarence Thomas hearings, the L.A. riots, the William Kennedy Smith and Mike Tyson rape trials, and the recent Casey abortion decision. Many of the chants were responses to the year’s events: “We Believe Anita!” “We’re women, we’re angry and we vote!” “William Kennedy Smith meet Thelma & Louise,” “Bush in 92-NOT!” The slogans reflected the anger festering: “I fuck to come—not to conceive,” and “Breast Cancer: An Epidemic.”

The different actions, like well-planned military attacks, came one after the other from all directions and communities. At one march, an air horn blasted every seven minutes, marking one AIDS death every seven minutes. On women’s rights alone there were (to name just a few): a civil disobedience blocking the Holland Tunnel, a demonstration at Times Square in response to the Casey decision, a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to a rally at City Hall in Manhattan, a Women’s Action Coalition counter-convention to let Democrats know that there are 10 million more women than men voters, a week of abortion clinic defense in response to Operation Rescue, and a Take Back Our Lives March and rally outside the convention center.

As I walked down the street, chanting the all-purpose “A People United Will Never Be Defeated” for the nth time, my heart was pounding. Committed and concerned New Yorkers were on the streets demonstration after demonstration. With our voices ringing out against the backdrop of New York City traffic and sweat dripping down our backs from the summer sun and humidity, here, in the heart of New York City, we were making waves.