Yael Dayan blasts occupation and the status of women

As the speaker who opened the "Women Who Shook the Jewish World" series last week, Knesset member Yael Dayan was invited to discuss the status of women in Israel. And that she did.

But not without spending at least half her talk railing against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Just a few hours after hearing that a Palestinian gunman had killed six at a bat mitzvah in Hadera on Jan. 17, Dayan stood before an audience of several hundred at the Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael and condemned such acts of terrorism. But at the same time, she called it the price Israel is paying for prolonged rule over the Palestinian people.

One cannot believe in the concept of "Greater Israel" and be a feminist at the same time, she said during her talk.

"You cannot have a double standard when it comes to basic human rights," she said. "A Jewish Israeli woman should be equal to an Arab Israeli woman should be equal to a Palestinian Arab woman."

Dressed in all black and speaking emphatically in her trademark husky voice, Dayan left absolutely no doubt about where she stood on the current conflict.

The audience was quietly receptive, with most people standing and applauding at the end, if reluctantly at first.

Dayan is a Labor Knesset member whose views put her at the extreme left of her party. The daughter of Moshe Dayan, one of Israel's most celebrated generals, she said that Israelis — her father would be included, if he were alive — have been living in a fantasy world, ever since their victory in the Six-Day War. With the first intifada and now the second, that fantasy has finally come to an end.

"We settled the land of others and we settled in the homes of others," she said. "We took pride in the occupation because it was a liberal and a Jewish occupation."

Noting how wrong it was to link the words "Jewish" and "occupation" together, she said that even if Palestinians achieved a higher standard of living under Israeli rule, that did not make it morally just. "We thought they'd get used to it," she said, "but no one gets used to being deprived of their rights, their freedom."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's calling for seven days of no violence before negotiating is ridiculous, she said. There should be no such preconditions, as the violence is a symptom of the occupation.

"The occupation itself is the father and mother of all evils," she added, "and we will never have peace until it ends."

Calling the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority completely asymmetrical, she said Israelis have fallen in love with the victim mentality.

"We speak from a position of strength but pretend we speak from a position of weakness."

Furthermore, she said, Israelis perpetuate this belief that "they're all out to kill us, instead of thinking in clear terms, what can or cannot happen."

Those who believe the war with the Palestinians can be won by force are deluding themselves, she said, and need only to look at history to be proven wrong.

"The minute you exercise force, you don't know where it will take you," she said. "As long as we keep the occupation going, we will continue to pay for it with the lives of innocents."

In talking about the Jewish settlements, she said in the case of the Gaza Strip, "there are 6,000 Israelis holding a population of 1.3 million by the throat."

The only solution, Dayan said, is similar to what was offered at Camp David: a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with borders close to those of 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Finally, Dayan turned to the topic at hand. Again, Israelis have been held captive by their own myths, she said, in this case, the Uzi-toting pioneer women in shorts who had an equal role in building the country.

The fact that Israel had a woman prime minister in its early years leads many to think that things are better for women than they actually are, she said.

For a long time, only nine out of 120 members of parliament were women, she said, which led Israel to have the ranking of 160th in the world. Now there are 16.

There are only two women mayors in the entire country. And while the current government has the largest number of women ministers ever — three, plus two women deputy ministers — that number is still minuscule, she said.

Nonetheless, the lack of women in government is not the reason for Israel's woman problem, she said; three other factors are.

One is the country's lack of written constitution or bill of rights. The extreme militarization of the country is another — those who fought the wars are considered the elite. And the Orthodox stronghold on the laws of the country is a third.

"It's not that we don't recognize Reform Jews; we do," she said. "We don't recognize rabbis." Speaking of the many Jews who came from the former Soviet Union, the women have a more difficult time if they cannot prove they are Jewish, since according to Jewish law, then their children are not Jewish.

"Their children are Israeli citizens as per the Law of Return," she said. "They serve in the army, they pay their taxes, but then they cannot get married or be buried here."

As the founder and chair of the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women within the Knesset, Dayan said, "I find it very difficult to combat domestic crime when women are not equal in the eyes of the law, when women don't have equal pay for equal work."

During a question-and-answer period, Dayan was asked what American Jews could do if they agreed with her point of view.

"Speak out," was the answer.

"For too many years, you've told us, 'You serve in the army and give your lives, and we should silently show solidarity, right or wrong.' This is not correct."

And when asked whether she saw herself running for prime minister, she said no, because her career in politics began too late.

"Were I prime minister," she added, as if an afterthought, "we'd introduce things Golda Meir never did."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."