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Israel’s “50 Most Influential Women”—Not a Single Arab
by Samah Salaime
Last week the Israeli magazine Lady Globes (put out by business daily Globes) published its list of Israel’s 50 most influential women for 2016. Although it remains unclear what it takes for a woman to make the list — not to mention who came up with the criteria — I decided to use the list to analyze Israeli society from the eyes of a Palestinian. I wanted to learn who these women are, and why they are so influential.
The list includes truly impressive women, who at first glance seem to come from the world of business, economics, finance, banking, etc. For a moment I thought Globes was looking for women with money, but the list also includes Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), and a few spots after her is Culture Minister Miri Regev.
I continued thumbing through the pages and found President of Israel’s Supreme Court Miriam Naor, as well as a number of high-ranking members of various government ministries. The vast majority of the women on the list, however, were completely unknown to me. For a moment I felt as if I had failed a general knowledge test when I understood that I did not recognize at least 50 percent of the names. But thanks to some friends I realized I was not alone, and that there is good reason for my ignorance — I am an Arab woman, and this list isn’t intended for me. After all, what are the chances an Arab woman, enlightened though she may be, will read Lady Globes?
So, dear editors of Lady Globes, next time before you include MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union) in your list of Israel’s most influential women — despite the fact that most of the struggles she has spearheaded have not really succeeded — perhaps you should pick up the phone and call MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), the first Arab woman to head the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, and who has a positive influence on many aspects of women’s lives here, be they Arab or Jewish.
I suggest you also meet Attorney Mariam Kabha, the highest-ranking Arab woman in public service, who was appointed national commissioner for equal employment opportunities within the Economy Ministry. Perhaps you should weigh looking through the list of inspiring Arab women on the website “A-List”; you’d be surprised to discover researchers and executive directors at start-ups in Arab society. You will find, among others, the “pioneer of the hi-tech sector,” Reem Younis, who heads Alpha Omega.
You don’t want Arabs on your list of good Jewish women? No problem, what about the head of the New Israel Fund? She is known for her support for the social and political struggles of the weaker segments of Israeli society, the ones who are not subscribed toGlobes, yet certainly change the face of this country. Perhaps you could have made room for the executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel — an issue that absolutely influences the citizens of this country? Or perhaps the founders of “Women Make Peace,” or one of the young Ethiopian-Israeli women who head the struggle against police brutality? What about leading female artists, director, or authors?
There was no need for you to travel the world in order to complete this difficult assignment. All you had to do was get away from the whiteness of central Israel. If only you did that, you would be able to find incredible, inspirational women in every city, town, or village. You would find empowering Arab and Jewish women, Mizrahiot and Ashkenaziot, who are involved and are influential in various fields. Your list wouldn’t have brought them honor — in fact the opposite is true.
Two more notes:
Not every successful list of women must emphasize the woman’s familial status (despite the fact that the majority are married and have children). The time has come to separate the woman’s career from her family life, unless she says otherwise and views her family as an integral part of her professional life. Gone are the days in which it was insinuated that women manage to rise in the workplace despite everything.
Also, why not let women’s natural beauty shine? That way you can save hours of unnecessary Photoshop work. These women are supposed to feel beautiful with what they have been able to do over the course of their lives, not because of the effects you apply to their faces.
Photo: Aida Touma-Sliman. This article is reprinted, with permission, from Local Call and its English-language sister site, +972 Magazine.
Samah Salaime founded and runs the NGO, Arab Women in the Center.