Israel defines the empowerment of women, even during wartime

Click photo to download. Caption: A prayer service of Women of the Wall, a group which proves that Israel has made positive strides toward gender equality, according to Eliana Rudee. Credit: Women of the Wall.

By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org

The Electric Intifada recently published a piece that claims ending Zionism is a feminist issue, as a disproportionate number of women and children are being killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict. The Electric Intifada got only one thing right—it is true that women and children are at great risk during wartime. But the true offender of who creates that vulnerability was completely left out of the article. 

It did not mention that the United Nations found rockets hidden by Hamas in schools. 

It did not mention that Hamas launches rockets from inside and around mosques, hospitals, and children’s playgrounds.  

It did not mention that Hamas uses women and children as human shields to take advantage of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) restraint.

It did not mention that Israel was by far the highest-ranked country in the Middle East with the smallest gender gap by World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap survey of 2013. 

In a neighborhood where women are often reduced to third-class citizen status and can even be jailed or executed for “allowing” themselves to be raped, it’s not surprising Israel holds the top spot in the Middle East and North Africa region. No other Middle Eastern country cracked the top 100, while Israel proudly stands at 53.

So much for ending Zionism to advance feminism. 

In reality, Israel is a hotbed for feminism and women’s rights. To undermine Zionism would be to undermine feminism, as feminism was embedded in Israeli law, politics, and society since the early ages of the Jewish state’s establishment.

By law, women are protected by Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the Equal Rights Law. In the judicial system, women comprise more than half of all judges, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published in 2011. In the IDF, women are given the right to serve in any capacity. Women also excel in business, science, and athletics. And finally, in the Knesset, Israel shines as a place where strong and politically minded women flourish. Golda Meir served as Israel’s fourth prime minister, a position only two other women, globally, could claim before her.

In contrast, the United States has yet to elect a female head of state. The same goes for Sweden, the Philippines, Ireland, and Switzerland, which are ranked fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively, as the countries with the smallest gender gaps in the world. 

Today, three of Israel’s major political parties are led by women. For a country barely old enough to collect Social Security, it’s an amazing accomplishment—a model for women’s rights. 

As a nation that truly defines the empowerment of women, Israel must not rest on its laurels and continue to fight the gender norms ingrained in its society. Unlike their neighbors, Israeli women have the right and are encouraged to become successful entrepreneurs, scientists, politicians, and generals. 

Eliana Rudee

As such, on the morning of July 28, Women of the Wall gathered at the women’s section of the Western Wall to pray on Rosh Hodesh, the start of the Jewish month. The Jewish feminist movement, however controversial among some Orthodox men and women, represents the struggle for women’s rights that has been inseparable from Israel’s law, politics, and society since Israel’s founding.

One does not have to look to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap survey to see that Israel has made positive strides toward gender equality. The proof is all around Israel, and can even be seen around from the globe, as Women of the Wall stream their Rosh Hodesh prayers online. As a woman who is proud to call herself a Jewish feminist, I am extremely fortunate to be in Israel, where I can learn from countless Jewish women who are smart, bold, successful, and unapologetically female.  

Eliana Rudee is a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She published her thesis in Perceptions and Strategic Concerns of Gender in Terrorism. Follow her @ellierudee.

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Posted on July 30, 2014 and filed under Israel, Opinion.