The political dividing lines have been drawn deep in the current elections, with recent polls suggesting a close race between left and right as Labor and Likud compete for the right to run the 20th Knesset.
However, the 2015 Knesset elections has also been marked by the new and the unusual, the strange and unexpected: the pact between Tzipi Livni's Hatnua and Yitzhak Herzog's Labor, Eli Yishai's formation of the Yachad-Ha'am Itanu party, and its subsequent pact with the Otzma Yehudit faction - and the formation of a party specifically geared toward haredi women, B'Zhutan .
Just weeks before Israelis head to the polls, Arutz Sheva spoke with the brave women of the fledgling party - party leader Ruth Colian, Noa Erez, and Gila Yashar - to understand what the new campaign has to offer.
The phenomenon of discrimination against women in the haredi political world is not a new one. What prompted you to begin this campaign now?
We have each gone through different difficulties in life to bring us to this moment – a moment where we look each other in the eyes and say "enough is enough. We need to stop waiting for someone else to take care of us and start doing things ourselves."
When Ruth tried to run for Student Union at the haredi Campus of the Academic College Ono her attempts were thwarted. Noa's daughters were denied access to the Beit Yaakov school system because there were "enough" non-Ashkenazi girls in the grade. Gila was abused by her husband and then by the Rabbinical Court, an institution meant to protect the people of Israel.
When the elections were announced we were caught by surprise but we knew it was time. Ruth put the list together and she handed it in to [Central Elections Commission Chairman Salim] Jubran with tears in her eyes.
In the event that a haredi party - say, Shas, for example - retracted their standards against women and allowed you to join them, what would be your response? Would you join and fold the campaign, or branch out to other issues facing women in the hareidi community?
We are done waiting. It was made clear to us and the rest of the country that Shas and the other hareidi parties are afraid of us. They do not want us to join their list and they do not want to have to address the very pressing needs of women in our community.
We could not join a party that refuses to discuss the rate of breast cancer in our community, hiding behind the claim that "breast cancer" is not modest. We could not join a party that refuses to address the issue of women's faces being defaced on advertisements in our neighborhood.
We are a woman's party addressing woman's needs and we are very proud of what we have done in the past and what we will do in the next Knesset.
What are the main issues facing the haredi world today, and what does B'Zhutan plan to do about them?
We talk about four main issues in our platform; education, workplace, women's voices, and treatment of women in the Justice System.
These are all issues that touch our community very deeply – and it is our connection with these issues in our communities that led us to form our party – but they do not start and end in the haredi community. These are issues that affect all women in Israel.
We all have children in the school systems and they are being shoved into large classrooms at the age of three with inadequate supervision. Under the age of three there is no formal system in place at all.
In our community, we have children growing up with no secular education – English, math, science – subjects that will allow them to enter academia, get a job, and support their families. The education system isn't good enough today and the other parties aren't talking about it enough.
Workplaces don't take family needs into account and women with families pay the heaviest price today.
Women's issues don't get addressed enough, women are treated very harshly in the Rabbinical Courts. Things need to change and no one else is talking about these issues and they certainly aren't focusing on them – we are.
We are changing the agenda – we will be the voice of the people in the Knesset. We need to address the size of classrooms. We need to ensure that there is accessible day care for children under the age of three. We need to ensure that every child receives a core education and we need to encourage students to continue into higher education or trade schools. We need to address the disparity between the school vacation schedule and the workplace vacation schedule.
We need to address the issue of violence in homes and ensure that women – especially the haredi women who do not speak about it today – are aware that there are places that can help them and we need to ensure that there are enough women's shelters for those who are seeking help.
We need to ensure that the Rabbinical Courts treat people with basic respect. We need to see a place for women in the Rabbinical Courts. We need to ensure that the dayanim [judges - ed.] are accountable for their decisions.
There is a lot of work to be done and we believe we can do it. These are our issues – these are our only issues. This is what we will dedicate our time in the Knesset to working on.
What was your families' response to your campaign? Or the wider community's response, for that matter? Have you received more, or less support than you expected?
Our families are supportive of our cause and there is a lot of support in our communities.
Most of the support is still very quiet, but we are certain it will become louder after the elections, once people realize just how much support we have.
We were denied the right to advertise in Yated Neeman and Yom Leyom – two haredi publications. It wasn't surprising to us, we know they are afraid of us.
On March 1st we submitted a claim against them in the Shalom Court in Petah Tikva, demanding 100,000NIS ($25,117) as compensation for the discrimination against us, as a women's party. We hope to receive a positive answer from the courts soon.
How is the campaign progressing at the moment? Do you believe you will cross the Knesset threshold (4 seats)? If not - why is it still important for you to present the party as a political force?
The campaign is going well and we are reaching a lot of people. It's always difficult to go up against parties with millions of shekels to spend, but our message is getting out there and people identify with us.
We're tired of voting on security issues when 67 years hasn't gotten us anywhere. We're ready to deal with the real issues facing us as real women every day.
We are determined to cross the threshold and become Knesset members. It's not enough to just make noise – we are going to make a difference.
There are those who could compare B'Zhutan to the Pensioners' Party (Gimlaim/Gil/Dor - ed.): as a party borne out of frustration due to the Knesset at large ignoring the needs of a specific population.
Would you agree with this comparison? And if so, why?
We are certainly comparable to the Gimlaim party. Israelis are fed up with the system and they are willing to vote for a party that has strong and important values. We are that party in this election and we will continue to get stronger.
Ultimately, is the party interested in widening their scope to women from other communities, e.g. national-religious or traditional or secular women?
Our party slogan is "Charediot making change" and that change is not limited solely to the haredi community.
We have already been embraced by many men and women, secular, traditional, orthodox, and haredi.
We are a women's party with real issues on our agenda.
What encourages you to keep going, to keep campaigning for haredi women?
What drives us the most are our families, our children. We're doing this for them.
We want our children to grow up in a better world than we did. We want to ensure their educational so they have opportunities we had to fight for. We want to ensure that they are raised in a state that values human dignity and respects its citizens in all of its institutions. And we're done waiting for someone else to pick up the glove.
We're going to be the first haredi women's party voted into the Knesset and we're going to ensure that we affect real change.