Outrage Ensues Over Netanyahu’s Response to Women’s Absence from Corona Cabinet

Netanyahu’s response to exclusion questions have stoked the flames further across the political spectrum

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved earlier this week the prime minister’s new, trimmed-down 10-member “coronavirus cabinet,” which included no women. When asked about the omission, Netanyahu’s response only made matters worse.

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, a former coronavirus cabinet member, pointed out this absence to the prime minister: “I’m not talking about me personally,” she allegedly told Netanyahu. “It makes no sense for there to be no women.”

Netanyahu is alleged to have responded: “I sometimes wonder in the middle of the night why traffic lights are red. There are a lot of things that don’t make sense.”

We are not red traffic lights

This remark has spawned outrage on social media. Many people and organizations, such as the Israel Women’s Network (IWN), changed their profile pictures into a red traffic light.

“We are not red traffic lights. Even in that analogy, you need to stop at a traffic light because it’s the law. Michal Gera Margaliot, executive director of IWN, told The Media Line.

“There’s also a law,” she added, referring to Israel’s 1951 Women’s Equal Rights Law, which ensures equal status of men and women. “Netanyahu is not the law. The law is the law.”

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano Shata, from the Blue and White party, told The Media Line, “We are currently in the midst of a critical global crisis. There is an inherent need for decision-making while considering the entire population’s diverse needs. Half of Israel’s population is comprised of women, and in the year 2020, we cannot accept a condition in which all eight women ministers of the State of Israel are excluded, and women are not represented in the most significant coronavirus cabinet. Thus, I approached my head of party, the destined prime minister [Benny Gantz] to redress the matter, and I believe that the situation will be rectified.”

Besides Cohen, the only other female cabinet member in the group, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, was also excluded.

On Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, Netanyahu is reported to have also said about the absence of women in the cabinet: “It’s not intentional. There are various forums that don’t have women, including certain security [ones].”

Netanyahu’s remarks, in addition to the lack of women in the new cabinet, have also drawn ire across the political spectrum.

Einat Wilf, a former Knesset member from the Labor and Independence parties and co-author of the book The War of Return, told The Media Line that excluding women from the cabinet is “despicable; it’s depressing. It’s intentional in the fact that … they don’t think it matters. They [Netanyahu and the establishment] genuinely don’t get it.”

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, from the Likud party, told The Media Line: “I truly believe that gender diversity in decision making always makes for better decisions. It’s a shame that the corona cabinet is male-only and I would urge the prime minister to include some of the very talented women that form part of his government.”

Margaliot expresses the same sentiment. She contends that the absence of women, both in the coronavirus cabinet and throughout the government, affects the quality of their governing.

“It’s not only symbolic; it’s not only the fact that our daughters will look up and see that there are women in all jobs and they can aspire to any position they want, like boys. It’s also because when there are no women around the decision-making table, the decisions are less good,” she said.

Besides the lack of women in the coronavirus cabinet, the removal of male ministers also impacts women.

It’s not only symbolic; it’s not only the fact that our daughters will look up and see that there are women in all jobs and they can aspire to any position they want, like boys. It’s also because when there are no women around the decision-making table, the decisions are less good

Two of the four ministerial heads axed from the group include Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli and Education Minister Yoav Gallant, whose portfolios disproportionately impact women.

“We know that these issues affect women much more than men,” Margaliot said. “If they close the education system again, there will be many more women who will stay at home because in most of the households, women are still the main caregivers.”

“They are not taking into consideration … women’s needs,” she added.

Margaliot argues that the lack of women in politics is systemic and from all sides.

“I know that this government altogether doesn’t take seriously women being present in decision-making. It’s not only Netanyahu; it’s all the parties,” she said.

There is, however, some good news regarding women in decision-making roles: Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced on Tuesday that Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis has been appointed head of public health in the ministry, replacing Prof. Sigal Sadetsky.

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