By Richard Friedman
Excited by the election of Kamala Harris (pictured above) as the first woman in American history to attain national office in the executive branch, Israeli and American participants in a Nov. 8 online program sponsored by Hadassah New Orleans were inspired as they probed what having Harris as vice president might mean for women in both countries.
The program, held the Sunday after election day, was dubbed “Dual Perspectives: Women’s Issues in the United States and Israel.” Most of the discussion focused on women’s leadership roles, challenges women face in the political and civic arenas, and the potential impact of Harris.
Moderator was Dina Kraft, an accomplished journalist based in Tel Aviv. Panelists included Jerusalem native Hamutal Gouri, founder and CEO of Consult4good. She also has served as executive director of the Dafna Fund, Israel’s only feminist fund. The other panelist was Tamara Kreinin, director of the Population and Reproductive Health Program for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos, Calif.
“This is a remarkably well-timed gathering,” Kraft said in her opening remarks. “It is hard not to get excited about Kamala Harris… a woman of color, no less.” Kraft said Harris was “standing on the shoulders of so many women who have come before her, as we all do.”
The Israeli-based journalist then asked the panelists “What does this election mean for women — having Harris in the White House?”
Gouri, speaking from Jerusalem, said, “Of course, we are excited… I think the fact that she is a woman of color is exciting for feminists and women in Israel. I think it is exciting for my daughter.” Gouri said she takes comfort in knowing there will be a woman in the White House who will be attuned to women’s issues.
“Having Harris in the White House with President-elect Biden is just remarkable,” said Kreinin. “We have a voice that is going to be an inspiration… and her voice will be loud, thoughtful and bold.” The VP-elect is a leader who exemplifies women’s lives, said Kreinin.
Kreinin said that President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 led to the inception of new women’s organizations and new levels of political involvement by women. She reflected on initiatives that were implemented that, she believes, had an impact on the election in various areas of the country. “I think women, young women, women of color, young women of color have hugely helped in this election.”
Kraft, who suggested several times that women are under-represented in the upper echelon of the Israeli political hierarchy, asked the other panelists if women are now more energized to become leaders.
Gouri believes women in Israel are ready to run for higher offices and want to make an impact. “But it is harder for women to be elected.” And once elected, she believes, it is harder for women than men. Women, she maintained, are judged on how they look and whether they are “too emotional,” she said, criteria never applied to men. She also said that in Israel those who have the best networks are white, Jewish men who come out of the military.
“When it comes to women using our social ties and connections to promote political and social goals, it feels awkward,” Gouri added. “It shouldn’t feel awkward to use the connections that we are so brilliant at creating… all the different networks that we have. We should use them.”
Kreinin agreed but suggested that sometimes women are inhibited from “asking for things.” She believes that women are more concerned than men about coming across as “pushy” and worry more “about what people think.” Women need to learn to be “relentless… and not to be shy about asking.”
One questioner wanted to know if the panelists thought Harris’ election would be threatening to men. Kreinin felt the question was valid. “We must lift her up… I think we are in for some ugliness. We must all use our voices. It is going to be incumbent on us to defend her.”
A male who listened in asked, “In what ways can men become more sensitive to the concerns that have been expressed?” Gouri had some practical advice. She said one thing men can do is when they are invited to appear on panels, find out if there are female panelists, and if not, decline. Kreinin said men can become allies through voting and giving money. Also, she said “by how they stick up for women at the dinner table — they can be silent, they can put us down or they can really stand up for us — they can be remarkable allies.”
The Hadassah program also covered other issues, such as domestic and sexual violence and challenges women are facing as a result of the Covid pandemic. “Women just fall through holes and the system just fails them. One of the things we need to do is create a network that is very, very tight, that has no holes,” said Gouri.
Added Kreinin, “It is a bit of a long-game… We need to practically go person to person to shift the culture.”
(Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is a volunteer organization that “inspires a passion for and commitment to its partnership with the land and people of Israel.” To learn more about the Hadassah New Orleans, click here https://jewishnola.com/jewish-new-orleans/hadassah-the-womens-zionist-organization-of-america)