The new Knesset will be blessed with erudite committed women, part of a potential renaissance in a parliament that has lost much public credibility. The inaugural speeches of Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) and Merav Michaeli (Labor) both on YouTube with English subtitles were a sensation.
Ruth Calderon's state education created "the new Hebrew... a courageous practical and suntanned soldier." She filled that void with a love of the Talmud and the rest of her speech was an amazing Talmud lesson for the men in kippot from a woman who symbolizes the quiet secular egalitarian Israeli movement to study and "reappropriate" Judaism's texts and faith. Buried in her speech was the word LeTaken, to repair, in the context of repairing Israeli society. In a prayer for becoming a Knesset Member she asked that she "leave this house as I entered it—at peace with myself and with others... and cause a just peace to dwell among us and our neighbors."
Merav Michaeli, a journalist and broadcaster, is the granddaughter of Reszo Israel Kastner, who controversially negotiated with Eichmann for the freedom of a number of Hungarian Jews and who was later assassinated in Israel. She talked about being a woman in a minority where "the machismo of the Sabra"—a native-born Israeli—is still supreme. But she came to the Knesset as an equal "to shape the reality we live in." As a woman she pays the price when "you (men) spend one fifth of the national budget on a security budget that does not deliver security." But she wasn't there on behalf of women, but as a woman who "asks how we, as women, can save our society."
These guides to a new Israel risk being fig leaves for the men who lead the new parties. But what are these men committed to: love of country, or love of self? They seem to be all mouth and trousers. Yair Lapid is very much cast in the mold of the New Israeli, tough, good looking, a word smith, but there's little that's new in his words and deeds. Rejecting creating a bloc including Palestinian Israelis, banning his party members from a tour of East Jerusalem with an organization he deemed too lefty, and announcing he would be the next Prime Minister after Netanyahu even before coalition talks began; these moves do not match up with desires to repair or save Israeli society. They are consistent with the same old exclusivity and elitism of the suntanned Sabra soldier.
Two years ago, Lapid interviewed Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian-Israeli MK, after Tibi had fiercely rejected Arab Holocaust denial. Lapid talked about the fear of the Jewish collective of another destruction. Tibi talked about not wanting to be a victim's victim. Lapid did that thing many Israeli spokesmen still do. He said "you must understand." Nothing Tibi said produced reciprocity or humility.
Naftali Bennett, head of HaBayit HaYehudi and Lapid's partner in coalition-building, rejects totally the creation of a Palestinian state, and opposes an Israel for all its citizens. It isn't just the numbers game that works to bring these two men together. The New Israeli ethos binds them too. So imagine MKs Calderon and Michaeli reactions, when the equal share of the national burden they seek, is translated into a new army draft law to encompass more orthodox men, perpetuating the macho and still excluding women.
The last difficult years for Israel have seen the emergence of what one Palestinian observer has called the authentic Jewish Israel, in parallel with authentic Islam. For the House of Israel, such authenticity has posed the threat of a schism, between Israel and Diaspora. Staring at the glass of truth, can the New Israeli Women stop this divide?
Some years ago at a talk in senior Israel Foreign Ministry official one of the surviving signatories of the Declaration of Independence asked whether, with Israel's military supremacy, it was time to show some humility to the Palestinians. He was told, "We don't do humility." If the New Israeli Women achieve anything for Israel, it should be the recognition that humility is not weakness, within and without the country. Three smart new women MKs went to the controversial Women of the Wall prayer service Tuesday. None of their male counterparts attended.