Women cheered for election victories, but men are still over 95% of mayors

While Haifa and Beit Shemesh elect their first female leaders, representation of female politicians on local councils remains far lower than in Knesset

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

New Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch celebrates with supporters as the results from the municipal elections are announced on November 1, 2018. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)
New Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch celebrates with supporters as the results from the municipal elections are announced on November 1, 2018. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

Eleven women were voted in as heads of cities and local and regional councils in the nationwide elections on Tuesday, raising the percentage of female municipal leaders in Israel from 2 percent to 4.4 percent. Despite that rise, therefore, over 95% of Israel’s mayors are men.

In a high-profile victory, Einat Kalisch Rotem in Haifa beat incumbent Yona Yahav in a landslide to become the first female mayor of the northern city — and of a major Israeli city — in the state’s 70-year history. Kalisch Rotem, who holds a doctorate in urban planning and formerly worked as an architect, had received support from both ultra-Orthodox and left-wing parties.

In Beit Shemesh, Aliza Bloch sailed to a dramatic win overnight Wednesday-Thursday, defeating incumbent Moshe Abutbul by just 533 votes to become the first woman to lead the city long plagued by religious friction. A former principal at the city’s Branco-Weiss high school and a mother of four, Bloch, who is religious and holds a doctorate in education from Bar Ilan University, has touted herself as able to shrink the divides between its ultra-Orthodox, secular, and Modern Orthodox residents.

In Kfar Yonah, Lt. Col. (res.) Shoshi Kahlon Kidor won with 51 percent of the vote, ousting Efraim Deri from office after 41 years on the job. In 2003, at the age of 38, Kahlon Kidor made history as the first woman to be appointed a battalion commander in the Israel Defense Forces.

Dr. Einat Kalish Rotem celebrates with Head of the Zionist Union political party Avi Gabbay at her campaign headquarters after winning the elections, in Haifa on October 31, 2018. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Meanwhile, in Emek Hefer, Galit Shaul, who holds a doctorate degree in criminology from the University of Lugano, beat incumbent Roni Aiden to lead the regional council.

In the southern city of Yerucham, Tal Ohana became the first woman to head the council. She had run against another female candidate, Nili Aharon, of the Likud party. According to Hadashot news, Ohana, 34, also has the distinction of being the youngest mayor elected on Tuesday and the only one who lives at home with her parents.

Rotem Yadlin became the first woman to head the Gezer Regional Council, beating her opponent, incumbent Peter Weiss, by some 100 votes.

And Oshrat Gani Gonen, an educator and former director-general of the Kfar Saba municipality, became the first woman to lead the Drom HaSharon council.

Several incumbent female mayors also won reelection: In Netanya, Miriam Feirberg-Ikar won a fifth term by a large margin. She has run the coastal city since 1998. Lizy Delaricha was reelected for a second term in Ganei Tikva. Liat Shohat, mayor of Or Yehuda since 2015, also won another five-year term. The head of the Yoav Regional Council, Matti Sarfati Harkavi, a plant geneticist with a doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, ran unopposed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara with Mayor of Netanya, Miriam Feirberg (L), at the funeral of Israeli prominent defense attorney Yaakov Weinroth, on October 16, 2018. (Flash90)

Another six female candidates face a runoff on November 13, after no candidate in their respective races received at least 40 percent of the vote. These include: Yehud Mayor Yaela Machlis, who will face former Yehud mayor Yossi Ben David; Former Yesh Atid MK Yifat Kariv against Amir Kochavi in Hod Hasharon; and four others.

The number of female politicians in the local councils is far lower than in national politics, where some 35 out of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers and four of its cabinet ministers are women.

There were also few female candidates running to be mayor or council chair in the 2018 local vote. According to the Interior Ministry, 58 women submitted their candidacy for these roles, compared to 665 men.

The final number of female council members has yet to be released by the Interior Ministry.

According to an October survey by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank and Tel Aviv University, a large majority of Jewish respondents (73%) and most Arab poll-takers (56%) rejected the statement that men were preferred candidates over women to head local authorities.

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