New government to appoint first woman as ministry director-general

Sharon Uziel Peled to direct Public Diplomacy Ministry headed by Galit Distel Atbaryan, the first woman publicly named to position, alongside 23 male director-generals

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2023. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2023. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)

Members of the new government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are said set to appoint the first woman as a ministry director-general, after coming under heavy criticism for appointing only male staffers to the role so far across over two dozen ministries.

The Kan public broadcaster reported on Wednesday that Likud’s Galit Distel Atbaryan was given the go-ahead to appoint Sharon Uziel Peled as the director-general of the Public Diplomacy Ministry, charged with countering anti-Israel discourse and boycott campaigns. The ministry position was cleaved off from the Strategic Affairs Ministry for Distel Atbaryan, who started off in the current coalition as a minister within the Prime Minister’s office.

Out of the 31 ministries in the current government sworn in at the end of December, Distel Atbaryan’s ministry was the first to appoint a woman director-general. She will join 23 male director-generals already appointed to lead ministries in the Netanyahu government. Another seven directors general have yet to be appointed, and are expected to be named in the coming weeks. Two appointments of male directors-general failed to be approved, but men are serving in the positions in the interim.

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer has reportedly indicated he will tap Jordana Cutler, Facebook’s public policy director for Israel, to run his ministry, although no appointment has been officially presented to the cabinet. Science and Technology Minister Ofer Akunis had intended to appoint former Likud MK Osnat Mark as his ministry’s director, but she withdrew her candidacy after criticism was raised over her lack of relevant experience.

Of the current 32 ministers in the government (some ministries have multiple ministers, and some ministers have more than one portfolio), six are women: Distel, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, National Missions Minister Orit Strock, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office May Golan.

Netanyah’s cabinet is the second-largest in Israel’s history, behind the 2020 unity government led by Netanyahu, which had 34 ministers. The entire Knesset numbers 120 lawmakers, though under the so-called Norwegian Law, ministers can resign their Knesset seats to make room for new MKs.

Likud MK Galit Distel Atbaryan ata conference in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Last week, the Israel Women’s Network sent a letter to Netanyahu demanding that the under-representation of female ministry directors be rectified.

“Such a low representation of women among the directors of government ministries is a blatant violation of the mandate for fair representation,” the organization wrote in the letter, first publicized by the Walla news site.

The last government had nine women in a cabinet of 27. There were also nine ministry director generals who were women during the most recent coalition — an all-time high.

The two ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have no women on their electoral slates, while the far-right religious Otzma Yehudit has only one. Among the 64 MKs in the coalition when it was sworn in, just nine were women.

Amy Spiro contributed to this report.

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