after news of a female majority in the rwandan parliament, i thought it might be useful to look at another emerging woman leader. tzipi* livni has become the leader of the kadima party, and has just over a month to form a coalition government in israel.
i'd say that this is one of the more powerful leadership positions in the world, in terms of the impact her decisions will have on the whole region should she become prime minister. ms livni is known as a centrist (although she was involved in substantial privatisation of government organisations when part of a likud-led government), and the kadima party calls itself a centrist party. however, it will be the parties that it will bring into government via coalition arrangements that determine whether the new israeli government will be left, right or centre.
apparently ms livni doesn't identify as a feminist**, but:
... she is on the record saying that "guy issues" undermined Israel's prosecution of the 2006 Lebanon war and, "Not only in the war. In all kinds of discussions, I hear arguments between generals and admirals and such and I say: "Guys, stop it," she told The Times of London last year. This has occasionally earned her contemptuous treatment from the elite male Israeli punditocracy.
yes, the sexist put-downs are as common in israel as they are in every other part of the world:
“Livni proved that she was a good candidate for the chair of women’s organisations, at best,” the columnist Ben Caspit wrote...
but no doubt ms livni has the ability to rise above it. although she has only narrowly won the kadima leadership (by 431 votes or 1.1%, based on an approximately 55% turnout), she has done so on a platform of pushing the peace effort. if she succeeds in putting together a coalition, she will have been one of only three prime ministers in recent times to not have a military background (other than compulsory military service). true she did work for mossad, but apparently at a low-level position, "hired to live in a Paris apartment to maintain the appearance of a regular residential property".
what we know of ms livni is that she supports an israeli-syrian peace agreement (even though the bush and mccain do not) and is not keen on an israeli airstrike on iran. she has beaten shaul mofaz, who opposes both peace with the palestinians and with the syrians.
however, ms livni will have to deal with the extreme right in israel who continue to oppose any kind of concession. settlor groups will resist any dismantling of settlements on the west bank. she will face major obstacles even in trying to stop the new settlements that continue to be built on disputed land. any significant concessions made by her will surely result in bejamin netanyahu becoming prime minister at the next election and what kind of disaster that will be, we can only imagine.
in any case, here is a woman leader who appears to have some substance. whether or not she can translate that into substantial progress remains to be seen.
*tzipi is apparently short for tzipora, which means bird.
**these quotes and a couple of the links are from a piece by joel beinin, professor of middle east history, stanford university. it was sent to me by email and unfortunately i can't find a copy available on-line.