In a male-dominated society, it was a testament to Israel's genuine dedication to democracy that it beat out by more than a decade the "progressive" Western societies in electing its first female leader, Golda Meir, in 1969.
Just two years ago, Tzipi Livni nearly became Israel's second female prime minister before being narrowly edged out by Benjamin Netanyahu. In Israel's next general election, scheduled for 2013, Netanyahu is likely to again find himself pitted against an all-female cast of challengers.
Barring a surprise in internal party elections, Livni will still be head of the large Kadima Party. And with the recent ascendance of Shelly Yachimovich and Zahava Gal-On to the leadership of the Labor and Meretz parties, respectively, three-fourths of the prime ministerial candidates in Israel's next election will be women.
While Israel may indeed be a "macho" society, when it comes to the role of women in the halls of power, Israel is at least as advanced in terms of gender equality as the most progressive of Western nations.
It seems an impossible phenomenon considering Middle East attitudes toward women, until one remembers that while Israel is both a macho society and a liberal modern democracy, it also has as its foundation the biblical faith. And women in the Bible were not subservient slouches.
Deborah (Judges 4 & 5) is one of the most recognizable of Israel's ancient leaders. Miriam (Exodus 15:24) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22) are both identified as prophetesses with major political clout. All of Israel's matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) strongly shaped the future of their nation. Paul (Romans 16, Philippians 4:2) and Philip (Acts 21:8) both write of numerous women who played leadership roles in the early church.
So, while Israel's gender equality in government is hailed as "progress," the truth is, just as with most other things in Israel, it is deeply rooted in the nation's rich biblical past.
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