Israels Iron Lady ready for next fight

Israeli politics is often a snake-infested quagmire dominated by personal interests, vendettas and back-room dealings. Cooperation between political parties such as Labor and Likud is in short supply.

Sometimes there are, however, mitigating circumstances — such as gender.

"Women in Israeli politics face so many obstacles and challenges, that there's a natural bond between them," Knesset member Limor Livnat said last week in San Francisco.

Livnat, a Likud member of the Knesset since 1992 and a former minister of communications under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was here to raise funds for the State of Israel Bonds.

"Women in politics need to be better than men," Livnat said. "Not just in Israel, but worldwide — except perhaps in the Scandinavian countries."

Livnat illustrated her point by noting that of the 120 members of the Knesset, only 14 are women. And most of those women, Livnat pointed out, were there due only to recently implemented affirmative action programs — with some notable exceptions.

Herself, for example.

"Keep in mind that I got elected without affirmative action," Livnat said. "That's important to remember."

Livnat is not unfamiliar with the powers of persuasion. It has come in handy for the politician who has faced more than her share of uphill battles. The woman referred to as "Israel's Iron Lady" has had her mettle tested on countless occasions.

Livnat is the former chair of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into Domestic Violence, a position she used to shine a light on an under-reported topic.

"It's only in the past 10 years that the Israeli media has focused on domestic violence," she said. "and even, now it doesn't really receive the type of coverage it should."

While noting that the reported cases of domestic violence are far lower in Israel than in other countries, Livnat said that "as a Jew, as an Israeli citizen, and as a woman, I can't tolerate any cases of domestic violence."

Another battlefield for Livnat is Israel's telecommunications industry. A significant part of Israel's economy, the industry, according to Livnat, is also riddled with cronyism. "What you have in Israel is four or five families basically acting as monopolies," Livnat said.

"This is very unhealthy for democracy, and extremely detrimental to a free economy. But it's not easy for a politician to stand against these forces. You really have to push strongly and risk angering some very influential people."

But Livnat did just that, pushing legislation through the Knesset designed to open up the field to more competition.

The recent recipient of Israel's "Amitai Award," which is given in recognition of political integrity, Livnat has certainly burned a few bridges in her time. But by tossing out some dead wood, Livnat hopes to build a better country.

"Everything I do is motivated by my love for Israel."