Marking women’s day, minister tells female MKs to ‘quit whining’

Ofir Akunis sparks backlash from lawmakers for urging women to shed ‘old-fashioned’ perceptions and learn from US ambassador to UN Nikki Haley

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Ofir Akunis in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Ofir Akunis in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Two days ahead of International Women’s Day, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis sparked a backlash for telling women that if they “continue to whine, you will never become leaders.”

“You want to mark [women’s day], and that’s fine,” Akunis said in remarks during a special plenary session to mark the day. “I’ll go with the flow.”

But, he went on,”Feminism does not mean constantly whining. It means doing.”

Akunis named former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, former Turkish prime minister Tansu Ciller, and current US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley as positive role models for aspiring female leaders.

Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir, did not make Akunis’s list.

“What happened? Stop it, change your old-fashioned perceptions and learn from them,” Akunis said. “If you continue to whine, you won’t ever be leaders.

“In my opinion, Nikki Haley is a real leader. Learn from her about leadership,” he told the female MKs in the room.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

Akunis’s remarks drew audible groans and cries of protest from lawmakers, with several storming out in protest.

“Here’s a short lesson, for years, the women that you describe as ‘whiners’ have changed the course of history,” Zionist Union MK Revital Swid tweeted. “Your comments are exactly why we need a women’s day in 2018.”

Fellow Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar also slammed Akunis’s remarks as a “disgrace.”

“Can someone please tell me what happened to Ofir Akunis,” fellow coalition member and Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria tweeted. “He just called women whiners on international women’s day. I was not expecting this.”

Joint List MK and women’s rights activist Aida Touma-Sliman also slammed Askunis’s “shameful” remarks, and said marking women’s day “symbolizes the hope in the struggle for a more just society.”

Akunis later apologized to MKs for any offense caused.

Arab Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two years ago, Akunis was fined 12,000 ($3,300) by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for calling a woman with facial paralysis “ugly” on Facebook.

After Batya Shefi Gottlieb posted on social media that the Likud MK, who was visiting the US at the time, that he should “feel free” to stay there, Akunis blasted her as “ugly and brazen.”

Akunis refused to apologize, so Gottlieb said she sued for defamation.

It was the first time a sitting Israeli lawmaker was successfully sued under Israel’s Defamation Act of 1965.

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