New unity government marks significant milestones for women, minorities

The new government has 29 female lawmakers, including the first hijab-wearing MK and the first Ethiopian-born government minister.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

After nearly a year and a half of political deadlock, Israel’s 35th government was sworn in on Sunday. The new government includes some firsts for the Jewish state, including the first Ethiopian-born female minister and the first hijab-wearing Knesset member.

While the record for the highest number of female MKs belongs to the 20th Knesset with 35 women serving as lawmakers, the 23rd Knesset has 29 female MKs, making up nearly a quarter of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

Attorney and former journalist Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) is the first Ethiopian-born Israeli government minister and the first female Ethiopian member of the Knesset.

She immigrated to Israel at the age of three with her family via the Mossad airlift Operation Moses, and grew up in Petah Tikvah. On Sunday, she was sworn in as the Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption.

“For me, this is a landmark and the closing of a circle,” Tamano-Shata said to Maariv. “From that 3-year-old girl who immigrated to Israel without a mother on a cross-desert foot journey, through growing up in Israel and the struggles I led and am still leading for the community, integration, the acceptance of the other, and against discrimination and racism.”

“My first memory is the long journey from Ethiopia to the Land of Israel via Sudan. I remember getting a bowl of porridge in the Sudanese refugee camp, where we waited with the other Jews for trucks to bring us to the planes.”

“My next memory is in Israel, feeling sadness and deep longing,” she told Maariv. “The truck my mother and two of my sisters were riding in crashed on the way to the plane. My father, other siblings and I ended up leaving them behind and coming to Israel by ourselves. From this shattering experience I learned that family isn’t guaranteed.”

It took two years before she was reunited with her mother and sisters.

Also joining the Knesset is Iman Khatib Yassin (The Joint List) who is the first hijab-wearing MK in Israel’s history. From the village of Arraba in the Galilee, Khatib is a trained social worker and a member of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

“There is no way [the hijab] won’t capture people’s attention,” Yassin said to Reuters. “But what’s more important is what is inside: the ability and potential to advance our community.”

“Look beyond the veil,” she added. “There is a growing awareness amongst Arab women that we can be active participants in our future. My message to young women: there is a possibility. There is a way. Don’t limit your hopes and dreams.”