Because of Israel’s history as a country which has been under siege for most of its short life, it has been hard for a civilian agenda to emerge as central in the public understanding. Everything else has been secondary to the main task of the society. For much of the last fifty-five years this has been seen as political-military survival. In truth, this is not so different from the situation in the pre-State decades when “Zionism and its achievement” subordinated the vast majority of other issues to a place well down on the priorities list.

From one point of view, this is natural and understandable. Any society whose survival is felt to be in question will place that survival and the measures needed to ensure it, above agendas that are felt to be more dispensable. However, one of the problems that characterises Israel is that for decades, this is the explanation – some would say the excuse – that has been offered for the non-prioritisation of a whose host of serious issues, whose resolution is seen to be secondary to - and, to an extent, dependent on - the achievement of peace and security for the country. The result of this is that a large number of issues have never been dealt with satisfactorily because they are seen as minor. In the last few years, there has been a lot of criticism of this point of view and many aspects of a civil agenda have been seen as being sufficiently important not to be permanently shelved to secondary status. A prime example of this is the question of environmental issues, which now warrants a ministry, whereas for many years it was a subject that was simply not regarded seriously.

It can be argued that such a set of attitudes has caused the lack of serious consideration, outside of groups of committed women - seen of course as an “interested party” - for the emergence of a women’s agenda. There are many women activists who would claim that the prioritisation of such an agenda is not an issue that is important for women alone, but is important for the society as a whole. This is precisely, however, the sort of claim which tends to be met by disparaging remarks and allusions to national priorities and “really important subjects”.

It is noteworthy that at a number of crucial junctures in the country’s history, this card has been used to downplay a prioritisation of women’s needs as a separate and central issue on the national agenda. We mentioned above that at the beginning of the Histadrut in 1920, there was a large argument among the women of the labour movement over the issue of a separate women’s list. The opponents argued, among other things that there was a whole national Zionist agenda that needed to be dealt with and that women should not close themselves off with their own narrow agenda regarding specific issues for women.

The same claim was made when a Women’s Party was formed in advance of the 1977 elections. How could women think of having their own party when there were so many more important things to think about in the post Yom Kippur War years? In the end, when the party did not succeed in gaining enough public support for a Knesset seat, its leader, Marcia Freedman, was brought into the Citizen’s Rights party by party leader Shulamit Aloni, and as a member of Knesset, she introduced some important legislative initiatives. But, on several occasions in subsequent years, when the idea of a Woman’s Party running for Knesset was mooted, the idea was opposed because of the issue of the general national agenda. It might well be that only after the achievement of peace and security, women will feel that the time has come to put their own issues at the top of the national priority list. Equally important, it may only be then that the rest of the population, might be sufficiently open to the idea that the time has come to push a woman’s agenda.



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27 Apr 2015 / 8 Iyar 5775 0