As Israel marks 66 years of independence with a tribute to women, Haaretz has compiled its own list of 66 Israeli women you should know. Some names will ring a bell, but most probably will not. The common denominator? They are women breaking barriers, defying stereotypes and wielding influence to great effect in the corridors of power and behind the scenes. Each and every one of these outstanding achievers, we believe, is a woman worth watching.
A veteran social activist, attorney Sharon Abraham-Weiss should hit the ground running when she rejoins the Association for Civil Rights in Israel this month and assumes her new position there as executive director. In her previous 10-year stint at ACRI, one of Israel’s most important civil society organizations, she was involved in several landmark cases, including petitioning the High Court to grant equal land rights to Israeli Arabs, provide citizenship to Palestinian spouses of Israeli Arabs and enforce a guaranteed minimum wage. The 45-year-old labor law specialist and mother of two has served as the Tel Aviv regional head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission since 2008 and is a founder and board member of Women Lawyers for Social Justice.
She is one of five female Bedouin lawyers in Israel and arguably the country’s leading expert on polygamy. But Rawia Aburabia hates being pigeonholed. Although the outspoken 33-year-old grew up in a middle class home in Beersheba – not in a Bedouin encampment – she identifies as a Palestinian as well. Unlike many Bedouin women, Aburabia has enjoyed access to higher education, with a master’s degree under her belt and a doctorate on the way. This has clearly helped put her in a position to become a high-profile advocate for her community. As director of the division responsible for Negev Arabs and Bedouin at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, she was a fierce opponent of the government’s controversial plan to resettle Bedouin in the region. It has since been scrapped, as the government searches for an alternative. Married with one daughter, Aburabia is also emerging as a vocal advocate in her community for women’s rights.
During the U.S. National Football League’s referee lockout in 2012, Shannon Eastin was called in to replace striking colleagues and made history as the first female referee in the professional sport. That same year, a 40-year-old driving instructor from Kiryat Bialik near Haifa, Lilach Asolin, became the first female referee in a top-division soccer match in Israel. By the time the Israeli made her breakthrough, she had accumulated two decades of experience officiating in lower leagues and refereeing at important international tournaments. She did take a four-year break in between to raise her son. The NFL still doesn’t have a permanent woman referee, and female officials are few and far between in many other professional leagues. But Asolin has become a regular fixture at Israeli Premier League matches, the most senior member today of a growing cadre of female officials.
She’s barely 36 years old, but television news anchor Yonit Levi has already interviewed both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, covered the September 11 attacks in New York City, the space shuttle Columbia tragedy and the Second Lebanon War. The senior anchor of Israel’s leading evening news broadcast on Channel 2, Levi earned her stripes at an early age. She vaulted to the co-anchor position at 25, after the first female co-anchor, Miki Haimovich, jumped ship to a rival TV channel. She went solo a few years later when her male counterpart also stepped down. Famous for her beauty and cool “ice queen” demeanor, Levi has been known to wow Israelis with her linguistic skills – not only interviewing world leaders in unaccented English, but also conversing on air with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in fluent Italian. Offscreen she’s half of a media “power couple,” following her 2011 marriage to writer and comedian Ido Rosenblum.