Jeannie Weiner, co-chair of Fall Focus; Sharon Leider, NCJW vice president; and speaker Dina Charnin Credit: Shari Cohen

Helping Israeli women thrive.

Shari S. Cohen Contributing Writer

Israeli women have diverse religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds and educational levels, but they increasingly share a common goal — achieving a greater voice in society.

Dina B. Charnin, director of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Israel Policy and Programs, visited Michigan recently to update NCJW members on the status of Israeli women and the organization’s efforts to help them.

Susan Rollinger, a vice president of NCJW Michigan, explained at its Fall Focus meeting that the national organization has been involved in Israel for more than 70 of its 125-year history. She said an Israel Committee was created recently to introduce the local community to NCJW activities in Israel.

Charnin leads NCJW efforts to empower women and girls, advance gender equality, and help strengthen civil liberties, democracy and peace efforts in Israel.

While many Israeli women increasingly seek an expanded role in society, Charnin says they don’t use the term “women’s movement” to describe their efforts. They find the term inappropriate because of their diverse backgrounds and goals, she explained.

“There is a MeToo movement in Israel and there are many challenges facing Israel from inside. We have a role to support Israeli feminists,” she said.

According to Charnin, Israel women make up 28 percent of the elected legislators in Israel’s Knesset, compared to 21 to 22 percent female representation in the U.S. Congress, prior to the recent midterm election here. During recent local elections in Israel, twice as many women ran for office compared to the last election. Eleven women won local office among 257 electoral contests, compared to five in 2013. This includes one woman who overthrew Haifa’s male mayor of 15 years.

“Israeli women earn only 68 percent as much as men and many people live in poverty,” she said. In the U.S., women’s salaries average 80 percent of the wages earned by men.

Charnin cited a current trend of “religionization — the rise of extreme Orthodoxy” in Israel that is affecting society and constricting women’s roles. For example, “there is segregation in the army with women-free bases,” which she says resulted from “making deals to get the Orthodox to enter the Army.”

Two Orthodox political parties — Shas and Agudat — have bylaws that prohibit women from running for office. However, a recent lawsuit by the Women Lawyers for Social Justice has challenged those bylaws. While the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled in favor of women’s right to run for office, one Orthodox rabbinic council stated it will not permit women to run in any case. Despite barriers, Charnin says there is feminism within the Orthodox community and funds are being invested to enhance the educational level of religious women.

Some Israeli women are promoting peace through a group called Women Wage Peace, formed after the 2014 conflict with Gaza, which promotes “political solutions, no violent solutions and advocates negotiation should always be considered first,” Charnin said.

Recently, Israeli feminists met with a group of American women leaders and funders to discuss potential shared goals. “Israeli women who want to make change support the work of American women. They welcome alliances to help them lift up their voices,” Charnin said.

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