Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday joined in the worldwide celebration of women by hailing their central role in Jewish and Israeli society.
During a Knesset event marking International Women’s Day, Netanyahu referred to a 2,500-year-old seal belonging to a woman recently discovered outside of Jerusalem’s Old City as proof of the longstanding tradition of Jewish women in positions of power.
“This seal is unique not only because it’s rare, but because it’s unusual to come across evidence of women who had status and authority at that time,” Netanyahu said.
“This shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. The history of our people certainly points to the special status women held,” he said before pointing to a number of major female biblical characters as examples.
The Israel Antiquities Authority called the “rare” first First Temple-era find made of semiprecious stone indicated the owner was a woman who “had legal status which allowed her to conduct business and possess property.”
“The women of Israel are leaders in science, law, technology, business, economics, education, culture, medicine and every other facet of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
While the prime minister admitted there was “work to be done” in integrating women in certain professions, he called Israeli women in leadership positions “a great source of honor and pride to the country.”
Netanyahu went on to pledge to combat violence, sexual harassment and discrimination against women.
“I am proud that during my first term I was able to establish the Authority for the Advancement of Women, and later the Social Equality Ministry headed by Gila Gamilel,” he said.
2016 was the first year International Women’s Day was marked in Israel with a government minister specifically designated to work on women’s issues.
“I think these tools give us the means to advance the goals we want to achieve,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but there is no doubt we are on the right road.”
Ensuring gender quality was a “duty, as well as our right,” Netanyahu added.
At an earlier women’s day event Tuesday, he paid tribute to female soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.
During a visit to an army base in the Jordan valley, the prime minister said he was “impressed” that women served in all branches of the Israeli military, including in combat roles.