Veteran Israeli feminists launch the single-issue Womens Party

TEL AVIV — Tired of being in the political back seat, a group of veteran feminist activists has formed a new party to vye for Knesset seats– Yitzug Shaveh ("Equal Representation"), the Women's Party.

Its leaders include Ofra Meyerson, who is probably better known for being the left-wing wife of Tsomet chairman Rafael Eitan, than for being a member of the Jerusalem City Council. Despite their different political stances, Meyerson said her husband supports her bid for the Knesset.

The women announced the party's formation last week in Tel Aviv.

Former Na'amat head Ofra Friedman explained that women first had tried to effect change via extra-parliamentary groups. When that failed, they unsuccessfully tried to work within the established parties. Though she originally opposed the idea of a women's party, Friedman said, it now seems like the only option.

Likud Knesset member Naomi Blumenthal took exception to this. "It's chutzpah to say that women in the parties…were unsuccessful in these issues," she said.

"In the previous term and in this term [we have made progress] by forming the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and in passing legislation beneficial to women. All of the issues, such as fighting violence against women, have moved forward."

While she asserts it is important that a women's party run and believes that there are not enough female Knesset members, Blumenthal said she doesn't "think it has a chance of succeeding. The issue isn't high enough on Israelis' list of priorities for such a party to succeed."

Labor Knesset member Yael Dayan concurred.

"I'll be very happy if it improves women's situation in the Knesset…[but] single-issue parties usually don't succeed. I'm not for single-issue parties. I want a party that's for a Palestinian state and for economic and social affairs and for women," she said, adding that "of course, there's a need for equal representation."

Esther Hertzog, a sociology and anthropology professor who ran for the Knesset in the last election with a women's party that failed to pass the voting threshold, detailed Yitzug Shaveh's platform. She insisted it would not be a single-issue party. In addition to issues such as equality and reducing violence against women, she said, the party supports the peace process and the Wye accords, advocates a withdrawal from the Golan and opposes religious coercion.

The party represents all women, she emphasized, and its leaders include Bella Freund, who is fervently religious; Shelly Alkiam, who is Sephardi; and Samia Shahada, who is a Christian Arab.