Israeli Election Unlikely To Boost Women’s Representation in Knesset, Experts Say
Latest polls show that women-led parties are currently at risk of falling below electoral threshold
Israel’s upcoming election is unlikely to lead to greater women’s representation in the Knesset and could even have the opposite effect, gender equality experts believe.
The past two elections saw 30 women make it into the Knesset, representing 25% of the total 120 seats available.
The latest polls indicate that that figure is unlikely to increase after the country votes on November 1, its fifth time doing so in four years.
Most surveys carried out over the past week showed that the political gridlock would likely continue, with the Binyamin Netanyahu-led bloc scoring 60 seats in total, just one seat short of a majority. Meanwhile, the bloc led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid appeared set to win 56 seats, while Hadash-Ta’al (which does not support either bloc) would scrape by with four seats.
Prof. Ofer Kenig, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), has kept track of the number of women elected right in cent rounds of voting. One of his recent analyses for the IDI showed that Israel is currently ranked 61st out of 192 countries in terms of women’s political representation and 23rd out of 38 among the OECD states.
This situation is unlikely to improve and could even worsen this time around, Kenig warned.
“Because there are so many parties that are in the danger zone of not passing the electoral threshold, it’s hard to tell,” Kenig told The Media Line, noting that Meretz and Labor – both left-wing parties led by women – are at risk of falling below the electoral threshold.
A survey released by the Maariv news site on Friday showed the Likud leading with 31 seats, Yesh Atid with 23, followed by the far-right Religious Zionist party with 14 seats. The ultra-Orthodox parties are expected to win 15 seats altogether, while Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity party appears poised to receive 12 mandates.
At the bottom of the list, and in danger of not making it into the Knesset at all, are the left-wing and Arab parties: Labor (5), Meretz (5), Ra’am (4) and Hadash-Ta’al (4).
Kenig predicted that roughly 30 women will again get voted in if both left-wing parties get enough votes come November 1.
From 1999 to 2015, Israel saw a dramatic increase in female representation, he said, however from 2015 onwards there has been little to no improvement in that regard, and female politicians continue to score 28-30 seats in parliament.
There are several factors that may have led to this plateau that are unique to the Israeli political landscape.
“Security issues were always and are still central in Israeli politics and women are still perceived as being less equipped or suitable to deal with such issues,” Kenig asserted. “For instance, no woman has ever been appointed to the office of defense minister.”
The second challenge facing female politicians is that Israeli society has large segments of ultra-conservative groups that are opposed to the inclusion of women in the political arena, namely the ultra-Orthodox and some religious Arab sectors.
“Hopefully we’ll reach the day where ultra-Orthodox parties will agree to include women in their parties because otherwise, it would be practically impossible to get even close to gender equality in the Knesset,” he said, adding that providing financial incentives to parties that include more women in their lists could move the trend in a more positive direction.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the Arab parties have just one woman who has a chance of getting elected in the upcoming vote: MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash-Ta’al), who currently heads the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality.
“Israeli society has been going through changes and in my opinion, backlash concerning women,” Touma-Sliman told The Media Line. “The political [sphere] is also undergoing a crisis. Usually in those two situations, there is a withdrawal of the rights of women and their representation.”
Like Kenig, Touma-Sliman pointed to the “religious parties” as being primarily responsible for the lackluster progress seen on the political front when it comes to gender equality.
But she also believes that other factors are at play.
“I think there is a need, first of all, to help women to compete especially in parties that have a wide canvas, where high costs are involved in running in the primaries,” she argued. “Usually women don’t have these kinds of resources. Secondly, there are fewer women that are involved in politics because politics in Israel are becoming very tiring; with six elections in seven years fewer women are interested in going through an experience that might last for only a few months before they start again.”