Ultra-Orthodox women launch election campaign

Activists demand female representation in Shas and United Torah Judaism, threaten voting boycott

Racheli Ibenboim in Jerusalem, on Sunday, June 1, 2014. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Racheli Ibenboim in Jerusalem, on Sunday, June 1, 2014. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women in Israel have begun an unprecedented campaign to have female candidates on the lists of religious parties for next March’s general election.

“We want ultra-Orthodox women — five percent of the population — to have a say in the Knesset and demand that the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties choose at least one candidate of their choice,” activist Esty Reider-Indorsky, a driving force behind the move, told Israel Radio on Sunday.

However, the broadcaster reported that the leaders of the parties in question — Shas, with 11 of 120 seats in parliament, and the United Torah Judaism list, with seven — have no intention of agreeing to the demand.

In a manifesto published on social networks online and supported by personalities including secular Israelis, the ultra-Orthodox women say they are prepared to go as far as an election boycott.

“And we (women) represent half of the electorate,” Reider-Indorsky told the station.

A Facebook page dedicated to the campaign — founded in December 2012, ahead of the previous elections — has garnered nearly 3,000 “likes.”

Michal Chernovitzky, 34, of Elad in central Israel, one of the signatories on a letter to the ultra-Orthodox parties, told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on Friday it was a common misconception in the ultra-Orthodox world that women were not interested in holding political positions.

“Aryeh Deri, for example, is constantly using his wife, who doesn’t want to go into politics, as an example. So here, we are saying that’s not true. Haredi women do want to run, and it’s time for that to happen. Moshe Gafni has even been quoted in the past saying that if a Haredi woman asked to run, he would vacate his seat for her. So here you go, Gafni, vacate your seat,” she said.

Another signatory is Racheli Ibenboim, of the Gur Hasidic sect, who was nominated for Jerusalem city council by the Jewish Home party, but dropped out after facing threats and intimidation, according to Yedioth.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, recognizable by their modest clothing and hair styled under a scarf or wig, are already present in Israeli politics.

Although they have not been able to be candidates for ultra-Orthodox parties, some have been elected for other parties and others work as assistants to Knesset members.

In the last general election in January 2013, the ultra-Orthodox parties — long-time kingmakers in Israeli coalition politics — found themselves excluded from power for the first time in 30 years.

The general election is be held on March 17, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a snap vote following the collapse of his coalition.

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