Livni Faces Formidable Obstacle of Sexism Embedded in Israeli Society
Columnist Shira Herzog writes in the Toronto Globe and Mail (www.theglobeandmail.com) on Oct. 22 about the prospects for Israel's next prime minister:
"Israel's Tzipi Livni promised a 'new brand' of politics that's cleaner and more transparent, but she's already being tested. Not surprisingly, the new chair of the ruling Kadima Party is having trouble forming a coalition government — the success of which would allow her to become prime minister and avoid elections until the government's term is completed in 2010. Livni prefers this option and, knowing this, key potential coalition partners have raised their stakes in negotiations.
"If Livni forms a government, her concessions to other parties will be criticized. If she doesn't, she'll have to prove her mettle against Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in a general election. Either way, the 'gender factor' in Israeli politics is alive and well.
"Livni is the country's first female contender for prime minister in more than 30 years, since Golda Meir. Despite repeated efforts to discredit her credentials, she narrowly won her party's leadership race (forced by Ehud Olmert's early resignation over corruption charges). While still considered an 'unknown' by many, her appeal to voters draws on a record of integrity in a decade-long political career and popular disenchantment with familiar political figures.
"The arguments against Livni recall recurring themes in the U.S. election campaign: her inexperience, absence of security credentials and gender. The last is most insidious. Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party and current defense minister, has been the worst offender. During the Kadima leadership race, Barak appropriated the '3-a.m.-phone-call' ploy — first used by Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries — and used it against Livni. She wasn't equipped, the decorated general proclaimed, to answer a call at 3 a.m. — or 3 p.m., for that matter.
"Now that Livni's won, Barak, who's weak in the polls and fears an election, will reluctantly join her coalition. There, she'll face his continued disdain attenuated only by the self-interest that will keep him there.
"So whether Livni succeeds in forming a government, she's laboring against a prevalent sexism in Israeli political and public life. Even the fact that women occupy two of the country's senior public positions — parliamentary speaker and chief justice of the Supreme Court — doesn't obscure this reality.
"This inherent bias is further underscored by the security imperative that permeates Israeli life. Retired senior military men are virtually guaranteed seats as candidates and, as a result, still dominate the country's parties. Two of Livni's contenders in Kadima — Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter — have served as army chief of staff and head of the Shin Bet (Israel's domestic security agency), respectively. Netanyahu is a former elite commando unit officer, and Barak is a former army chief of staff.
"Livni's win over Mofaz in the Kadima race proves that, even after Olmert's dismal execution of the 2006 war against Hezbollah, Israelis are prepared to consider another 'civilian' prime minister. But even though Livni's never run on a feminist ticket and likes to avoid the topic, the gender issue will continue to plague her in a cabinet flanked by men who flaunt security credentials and wish for her failure.
"A short-lived term at the helm would be a shame on several counts. Livni represents a younger generation of Israeli politicians whose time has come, and her demise would reinforce the older guard's cronyism.
"In a familiar political pattern, Livni may prevail simply because the alternative is unpalatable. While her own measure of success goes far beyond cracking the glass ceiling that's limited women in Israeli politics, that alone would be no mean achievement."
Has Green Now Become the Political Color of American Anti-Semitism?
Author and Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz writes in the New York Daily News (www.nydailynews.com) on Oct. 12 about the bipartisan coalition that supports Israel:
"The one issue about which candidates McCain, Obama, Palin and Biden seem to agree is Israel. During the debates each candidate has gone out of his or her way to emphasize strong support for Israel as an American ally and a bastion of democracy in a dangerous neighborhood. They have also all expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself against the nuclear threat posed by Iran, which has sworn to wipe Israel off the map.
"There may be some difference in nuance among the candidates, especially with regard to negotiations with Iran. … But in the United States, Israel is not a divisive issue, and voting for president is not a referendum on support for Israel, at least among the major parties.
"When it comes to third parties, however, support for Israel is extremely controversial. The Green Party, for example, has nominated candidates whose hatred for Israel is so visceral as to border on bigotry.
"The Green Party's current candidate for President is an overt anti-Semite named Cynthia McKinney who has surrounded herself with storm-trooper like neo-Nazis who frequently shout anti-Jewish slogans at her rallies. McKinney implied that the Jews were responsible for Sept. 11 and has supported the rantings of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Her father blamed her defeat for re-election to Congress on 'the J-E-W-S.' According to the Anti- Defamation League, McKinney has refused to distance herself from these 'anti-Semitic comments,' and 'her service in Congress has been clouded by a perception that she also harbors such feelings.'
"The historical record shows that this is an understatement. A fellow congressman characterized her as an overt 'racist and an anti-Semite.'
"Yet, the Green Party nominated this bigot for the presidency of the United States. Previously, they nominated Ralph Nader for president and Peter Camejo for vice president, both of whom have long records of anti-Israel bigotry and sympathy for terrorists. The Green Party itself has supported divestiture against Israel but not against tyrannical regimes that incite and facilitate the murder of innocent Israelis and Jews.
"Has Green become the new color of anti-Semitism in the United States as it has in parts of Europe? And why would so-called environmentalists oppose the most environmentally sensitive country in the Middle East and one of the most environmentally-responsible countries in the world?
"Nor is this one-sided blame-everything-on-Israel attitude limited only to third parties. It extends to the extremist fringes of both major parties.
Former President Jimmy Carter blames Israel, and Israel alone, for the lack of peace in the Middle East. The bad news is that a former president would express such bigotry toward the Jewish state.
"In the United States, as distinguished from Western Europe, centrists of both parties generally support Israel. Bigotry against the Jewish state in this country comes primarily from the extreme left and from the extreme right."