Is it too much to ask for some sexism-free Israeli political analysis? We all know that politics can get rough and tumble, and that Israeli pundits are not known for verbal restraint. But still, does a columnist have to throw gratuitous sexist remarks into an article on the Labor Party slate just because, well, just because?
Lest anyone think that sexism in Israel resides only among the ultra-conservatives or ultra-religious, allow me to bring a very recent example from Haaretz, Israel’s left-leaning newspaper of record (so to speak). The paper published a piece by senior political writer Yossi Verter on November 30 (an abridged version was republished in the English edition on December 2) on the various figures who made it last week into the top 20 spots on the Shelly Yachimovich-led Labor Party list for the upcoming Knesset elections. The article was titled, “On the way to the opposition: Shelly and Labor’s new Yachimoviches.”
From the headline, it sounded like a straightforward political analysis piece. The sub-headline seemed to give the same impression: “Labor’s new and colorful list looks good, but the chances for internal harmony or joining the new government are next to nil.” Then came a second sub-headline: “And also: some advice for the new member Merav Michaeli.” I was a bit suspicious, but I figured I’d give Verter the benefit of the doubt.
It turns out I was wrong to do so. First Verter wrote about the diversity of the party list in terms of gender, age, ethnic, religious and professional background. Next he mentioned the tensions between party leader Yachimovich and veteran politician and labor leader Amir Peretz, who was number three on the list — but has since jumped ship to Tzipi Livni’s new Hatnua party.
Finally, he took a little space to comment on a few particular people on the Labor list. First he mentioned Benjamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer and Nachman Shai, both older men. His focus was their political calculations, but then Verter shifted gears, putting the spotlight on two new party members, Haaretz columnist Merav Michaeli and social protest leader Stav Shaffir — both of whom happen to be younger women. Here’s what he had to say (my translation):
Merav Michaeli and Stav Shaffir are the naughty [or bad] girls of the list. Shaffir is a redhead, and that says it all. Michaeli has highly embarrassing episodes on her record: eating with her hands, sitting on the prime minister’s desk, and baring her breasts on television. On thing she is going to have to cure herself of immediately is her silly and childish habit of speaking in the feminine gender. If she chooses to speak in the legislature and committees like that, she will quickly become the laughing stock of the 19th Knesset.*
I was so shocked by the first two sentences of the paragraph that I almost didn’t read ahead to the offensive things Verter wrote at the end about Michaeli. Naughty girls?! Shaffir’s being a redhead says it all?! If I had not known that the Labor primaries took place last week, I would have thought I had mistakenly clicked on a link to an article written decades ago — surely not one from 2012.
Verter’s blatant chauvinism did not go unnoticed by readers, but I would have thought that more than only 26 would have posted comments (and among those, half or more didn’t even address the sexism).
The best retort was something I saw, rather than read. It was an image posted on Facebook by Avgad Yavor, a meme artist. It was a painting of the flame-haired Queen Elizabeth I in all her regalia with the caption: “Redhead. That says it all.” The best part was her expression — a cold, hard stare that said, “don’t you dare mess with me.”