JERUSALEM – A minor revolution is underway in Israel, with the female candidates catapulting to the top of party lists across the political spectrum ahead of the country's March 17 election, setting them up to claim key positions of power in the next government like never before.
While the number of women in Israel's 120-seat Knesset isn't likely to rise dramatically from its current 27, the number of women holding senior positions likely will, breaking new ground for women.
Israel is one of the few countries to have elected a female head of government — Golda Meir, four decades ago. But Meir's success turned out to be an exception to the rule, and its politics remain male-dominated. Female representation is low compared to Western democracies, and only 23 women have served as government ministers or deputy ministers since Israel's creation in 1948.
Gideon Rahat, a professor of political science at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said the strong showing for women in recent primaries follows a gradual rise in women's participation in the Knesset since the late 1990s.
He said that while more established parties such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud have elected only three women into its ranks, with another two appointed, newer parties are bringing in more. The newly formed Kulanu, for instance, is one-third female. Two parties have women at the helm: Tzipi Livni from Hatnuah and Zehava Galon from Meretz.
Here is a look at some of the women who have top spots on their party lists:
The 29-year-old Labor party lawmaker emerged out of mass street protests in 2011 against the rising cost of living to become a popular politician who champions the causes of the middle class. A video of her lambasting nationalist politicians for funneling money to supporters became a viral sensation. She captured the No. 3 spot in the primary of the main opposition party, Labor, ahead of a number of well-established party veterans. This will be her second term in parliament.
Shaked finished first in the Jewish Home primary, giving her the top spot behind leader Naftali Bennett. Shaked, a secular woman serving in a nationalist religious party, has helped woo voters from outside the party's traditional settler base. "In Israeli politics, women are now equal to men and they can achieve what men can," Shaked, 38, told The Associated Press. She said she expects to be granted an "important" ministry, but declined to disclose which one she wanted.
The boisterous legislator trounced established male politicians, including Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, to reach the Likud party's fifth spot. Regev, 49, has said that because of her achievement, she expects to be named Housing Minister, a key portfolio. While Regev is adored by party members, her abrasive style has put off some in the Likud.
A daughter of a former foreign minister, Levi-Abekasis was appointed to the No. 2 spot in Avigdor Lieberman's hard-line Yisrael Beitenu party. During her six years in the Knesset, the 41-year-old former television host has focused on social issues and said she plans to do the same in the coming session. Although a graft scandal has hit the party hard, it could still be a key part of a coalition government.
Yachimovich went from a bruising defeat in 2013, in which she lost the Labor party leadership to Isaac Herzog, to rocketing to the second spot behind him in this year's primaries. As party leader, Yachimovich, 54, refused to join Netanyahu's coalition. Instead, she led a tough opposition that challenged the prime minister's free market policies as more Israelis struggle to make ends meet.
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