Thursday, October 10, 2013

Want equality? You might just get what you asked for.

A petition has been filed by a Ruth Kolian, a law student from Petach Tikva* to deny state funding to political parties in Israel which exclude female candidates from their slates (I guess we can call them "political stag parties"). The parties named in the petition include the Ultra-Orthodox parties of Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Tov, which are each running all-male slates for local councils in various municipalities. (A link to the article is here; since the site is behind a paywall, the text is included below).

On the face of it, the petition seems fair - exclusionary tactics should have no place in an open society. While there probably are more Ultra-Orthodox men than women who are interested in participating in local politics, given the number of positions being sought, the parties should have no problem finding at least a few qualified and interested women.

Kolian, however, should be mindful of what Oscar Wilde wrote - "When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers". Denying state funding to political parties which exclude women would necessitate doing the same to political parties which include only women. Otherwise, not all parties would be equal before the law. In the Ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, a group of women have started a political party to run for city council. Not only is the party fielding an all-woman slate, its name ("עיר ואם" - "Mother and City"), slogan ("Mothers for the city of Elad"), and claimed political philosophy (women use city services more, they are thus better equipped to make decisions affecting those services) specifically exclude men.

I wish Kolian the best of luck. As a student, having to navigate the system she is studying will be a valuable experience. But if she's successful, she (and the women of עיר ואם in Elad) may learn a hard lesson in getting her way.

*or "Petah Tiqwa", for you purists.

Here's the article from Ha'aretz:

A social activist submitted a petition yesterday to the High Court of Justice, demanding that state funding be denied to political parties that exclude female candidates. The petition was filed just two weeks ahead of statewide local elections, scheduled for October 22.

In her petition, Ruth Kolian, an ultra-Orthodox law student from Petah Tikva, named as parties running in local elections that exclude women the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas; Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael (which for national elections are united as United Torah Judaism) and Tov (which is competing in the municipal elections in Jerusalem, Elad and Modi'in Illit).

By barring women from running on their slates, Kolian writes in her petition, these parties violate the principle of equality and women’s rights, including the right of free expression.

Kolian herself announced several months ago that she intended to run for the Petah Tikva city council, but she never declared her candidacy and today is not a candidate for public office.

Granting state funds to parties that exclude women creates an "intolerable situation in which the excluded group finances the excluding one," she says, pointing out that female as well as male taxpayers help to fund the parties. This preserves "the well-oiled intimidation machine that is based on discrimination and exclusion."

By allowing parties that ban women from running while receiving funds from the state tacitly encourages and gives its approval to this practice, Kolian argues. “Banning women from joining these parties removes them from decision-making processes,” she writes.

Jerusalem city council member Laura Verton (Meretz) petitioned the Central Election Committee before the Knesset election earlier this year, demanding that Shas and UTJ be disqualified for refusing to include women on their slates.

In March Kolian walked from her Petah Tikva home to Jerusalem to protest the suspension of the public housing law. She is also a leading animal rights activist, whose actions have included demanding that the Eda Haredit slaughter board withhold kosher certification from meat whose preparation involved animal abuse.

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