An (almost) all-female faction roars for change in Jerusalem

An (almost) all-female faction roars for change in Jerusalem

With an eclectic list of ‘lionesses,’ Ometz Lev says it aims to ‘advance the city’s agenda’ — not a feminist one

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Members of Jerusalem's Ometz Lev faction (from left to right): Susan Silverman, Tehila Mazal, Shlomo Goldman, Debby Ben Ami, Naomi Tsur, Edna Friedman, Yaffa Sahalo, David Meron and Michal Okashi-Ga'ash (photo credit: Courtesy)
Members of Jerusalem's Ometz Lev faction (from left to right): Susan Silverman, Tehila Mazal, Shlomo Goldman, Debby Ben Ami, Naomi Tsur, Edna Friedman, Yaffa Sahalo, David Meron and Michal Okashi-Ga'ash (photo credit: Courtesy)

Most political parties are dominated by men, with their few women highlighted and brought to the center stage. Of Jerusalem’s 31 council members, for example, only six are women. But now a new party, set to run in the capital’s municipal elections next month, hopes to change that.

This week, current Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur announced the launch of Ometz Lev — literally, “braveness of the heart” — the first women’s party to run in Jerusalem’s municipal elections. The first four people on its list are women, with a male candidate appearing only in fifth place.

“Jerusalem will but gain from having women at the table when it comes to planning the city’s future,” Tsur declared in her launch speech. “Women can think outside the box and Ometz Lev offers a fresh and positive direction for the future of Jerusalem.”

Aside from a heavy emphasis on environmental issues (to be expected from Tsur, who’s always been a Green advocate), the nascent party’s agenda highlights the items one expects to see at the forefront of any list bidding for a council seat. It talks about a democratic Jerusalem, a city that’s accessible and welcoming. As anticipated, gender equality is also on the list, albeit in a surprising fifth place.

‘We’re the lionesses of Jerusalem’

“We’re tired of the men’s wars,” Tsur replied, when asked about the unexpectedly low placement of women’s issues on her party’s agenda.

“People need to know that it’s illegal for women to be relegated to the back of the bus,” stated Tsur. “The legal wars are behind us.”

The party’s aim, Tsur continued, is for women to be at the center of the city’s decision-making process, to hold key positions for Jerusalem’s future. “It’s not a party that advances women’s agendas,” she said. Rather, “it’s a party of women advancing a city’s agenda.”

“We’re the lionesses of Jerusalem,” said Debby Ben Ami, a board member of the World Zionist Organization and a successful local businesswoman who’s vying for a seat from the third spot on the list. Alluding to the city’s lion emblem, Ben Ami made it clear the list wasn’t there to promote women — but to “place the city’s lionesses in key municipal positions.”

Speaking to mainly friends and journalists in a room overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City, Tsur voiced her party’s support of incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat for a second term in office. During “the last five years there were good, positive things done,” she said of her term as Barkat’s deputy. Nonetheless, she’s decided to run on a separate list, because “there are also lots of things that we didn’t advance enough.”

Naomi Tsur (center) at the launch of Ometz Lev, Sunday (photo credit: courtesy)
Naomi Tsur (center) at the launch of Ometz Lev, Sunday (photo credit: courtesy)

One issue repeated time and again by those on the newly formed list is the city’s need for sustainability. “I’m just a guy,” laughed Shlomo Goldman at being part of a women-dominated list, before presenting his vision of a sustainable Jerusalem, one not only dependent on being properly connected to Tel Aviv’s economic center.

Goldman, who hopes the fifth spot is a realistic one, said that “now, if you want to ensure your child leaves the city, you need him to become an architect or an engineer.” For the city to succeed, it needs to make sure people with that training can live and work in the city.

The California-born, high-tech-oriented candidate told The Times of Israel that Jerusalem should be a “start-up city.” Though there’s work to be done, Goldman said, “there’s no reason for it not to be.” For that vision to materialize, the city has to constantly ask how its every action — “even the decision to place a telephone pole” — affects it. For Jerusalem to be sustainable, we must ask “Who’s the engineer who built the pole? Is he from Jerusalem, and will his family want to live here?”

For Yaffa Sahalo, getting elected to the city council would be a dream come improbably true. A 48-year-old mother of seven, Sahalo made her way to Israel through the deserts of Sudan when she was a teenager and for the past two decades has been a prominent leader of the city’s Ethiopian community.

“For 30 years, there’s [been] no one for community members to turn to with their problems,” said Sahalo of her decision to enter the local political scene. “I hope to become the address” for community members, “but I also want to be the address for all the residents of Jerusalem.”

Though the faction includes the ultra-Orthodox Masada Porat alongside Women of the Wall member Susan Silverman, it tries to avoid discussing the potentially explosive issues of church and state that the city faces. The solution to the vexed issue of who prays where at the Western Wall “is in the hands of the state, not the municipality,” replied Tsur, in response to an inquiry by The Times of Israel.

When pushed on the subject and asked about the need to choose a chief rabbi for the city, Tsur said that she’d support the election of “a Zionist rabbi for Jerusalem,” and hoped the rest of her party members would agree with her. The need for “a Zionist rabbi trumps the affiliation with one denomination or another,” she added.

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