Israel: Ms. Magazine Shuns Ad Promoting Leadership of Israeli Women

In a surprising move last week, Ms. Magazine refused to accept an advertisement that highlighted the leadership of Israeli women in public service. The full page advertisement sponsored by the American Jewish Congress featured three high profile Israeli women with the statement, “This is Israel,” in large, bold letters. The female political figures featured were Tzipi Livni, vice prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Dorit Beinisch, president of the Supreme Court of Israel, and Dalia Itzik, speaker of the Knesset.

Photo Leader Role
Tzipi Livni Tzipi Livni Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
(No photo available) Dorit Beinisch President of the Supreme Court
Dalia Itzik Dalia Itzik Speaker of the Knesset

Magazine representative Susie Gilligan reportedly told the American Jewish Congress, “[We] would love to have an ad from you on women's empowerment, or reproductive freedom, but not on this.”

Ms. Magazine's executive editor, Katherine Spillar, further explained the rejection, saying: “Because two of the women were from the same political party, we understood it as political. [The magazine] does not get involved in the domestic politics [of foreign nations].”

(Both Vice Prime Minister Livni and Knesset Speaker Itzik hail from the Kadima Party.)

American Jewish Congress president, Richard Gordon, fumed, “The only conclusion that one can reach from this behavior is that Ms. Magazine feels that an ad highlighting the accomplishments of three incredibly talented and dedicated women would offend their readership. Since there is nothing about the ad itself that is offensive, it is obviously the nationality of the women pictured that the management of Ms. fears their readership would find objectionable. For a publication that holds itself out to be in the forefront of the Women's Movement, this is nothing short of disgusting and despicable,”

Bloggers Speak Out–

Observing the Israeli and Jewish blogosphere's reactions to the scandal, Women's Lens blogger Aimee Kligman remarks:

“I suppose we don't need Ms. Magazine at this point, because this ad is alive and well on the blogosphere.”

The author of the Hashmonean blog features a copy of the advertisement, commenting:

“Here’s the ad that has been refused by the Magazine because from my understanding it is too controversial. It features three prominent Israeli Women in positions of power to illustrate our free, equal society where Women are generally very well liked and considered quite competent (they also get to carry machine guns, you’d think this was a Feminist Mecca here [in] the holy land no!?) Apparently not.”

Note that in the tradition of leaders in the public sphere coming from elite military backgrounds, Dorit Beinisch was a first lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces and Tzipi Livni was an IDF officer and served in the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency.

Avi Green of Tel-Chai Nation believes that there is a:

“…double-standard being displayed by Ms. Magazine, which wouldn't run an ad featuring three left-wing – I repeat, LEFT-WING – women who have high positions in Israeli politics and government: Tzipi Livni, Dorit Beinish [sic], and Dalia Itzik. It's very bad, because it shows that Ms. is hostile to Israel even when it's leftists who are the focus.”

Solomon of Solomonia reacts to Ms.’ explanation for their rejection of the advertisement, saying:

“Lame excuse. Tzipi Livni isn't exceptional because she's a prominent female Israeli figure, Israel is exceptional in her region because females are prominent (and in Israel, their gender is unexceptional).”

Women Leading the Way–

Golda Meir

Livni, Beinisch, and Itzik aren't Israel's only prominent women. Galia Maor is the CEO of Bank Leumi, the national bank of Israel, Ester Levanon is president of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, and Dalia Narkiss leads Manpower, the largest employment agency in Israel. Additionally, Golda Meir served as Israel's fourth prime minister and first women in that position, from 1969 to 1974 (pictured left). And that's not all, Israel's first Olympic gold medal was earned by Yael Arad in judo in 1992.

What's Your Opinion?–

So what do you think? Should the magazine have offered the American Jewish Congress an opportunity to submit the advertisement with alternative figures? Is the issue being overblown? Is Ms. Magazine truly anti-Israel as the bloggers claim? What could have been done to avoid this international snafu?

Let's hear what you have to say.


  • Yi Ran Liu

    Well the MS. website has some comments that your article did not quote upon, which I think is actually quite important in helping us understand their position:

    Statement of Katherine Spillar, executive editor
    Ms. magazine concerning the AJCongress ad
    January 14, 2008

    …Ms. policy is to accept only mission-driven advertisements from primarily non-profit, non-partisan organizations that promote women’s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence.
    In Ms. magazine’s judgment, the ad submitted by AJCongress for consideration was inconsistent with this policy. Not only could the ad be seen as favoring certain political parties within Israel over other parties, but also with its slogan “This is Israel,” the ad implied that women in Israel hold equal positions of power with men. Israel, like every other country, has far to go to reach equality for women. As the Israel Women’s Network notes: “Women have consistently received symbolic representation in Israeli politics, at least sufficient enough to generate the myth of an open and egalitarian system.”

  • As Yi Ran Lau above me said, Ms. Magazine’s policy is “to accept only mission-driven advertisements from primarily non-profit, non-partisan organizations that promote women’s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence.”

    Does the Isreali government truly embody any of these ideals?

  • You may also be interested in this article from Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.

    He says:

    “Political? What’s political about an ad celebrating the achievements of women at the highest level of government? Doesn’t Ms. call itself the “media expert on issues relating to women’s status’?”

    In response to Livni and Itzik being from the same political party, he adds:

    “Oh, please. True, Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik are both Kadima (and how many American Jews, let alone Ms. readers, even know that?). But Kadima does happen to be the ruling party in Israel. How else would a woman politician reach the pinnacle of power if not as a member of the winning party?”

    Israel’s parliamentary system of government means that the winning party gets the most seats, meaning more of its members are represented than any others. Because it has the most seats in the Knesset, it makes sense that two of the leading women in politics would be in the same party. That’s how the parliamentary system works here.

    Lastly, Silow-Carroll adds:

    “Ms. made a different point, inadvertently or not: that it supports those who insist that you can’t talk about Israel if you’re not willing to rend your garments, beg forgiveness, or condescend to the Palestinian cause.”

    The link to the full article is here:

    What do you think?


  • Thank you for pointing out Ms.’ article to me. You are right in that I missed their point of view as published on their website, but I did read about it widely elsewhere.

    Here are some thoughts and then I’m interested in hearing your reactions.

    First of all, the crux of the issue in terms of comparison seems to be Nancy Pelosi’s recent cover which proclaimed, “This is what a speaker looks like” as opposed to, “This is what the USA looks like.”

    I understand the comparison, but don’t find it valid in the big picture because an advertisement differs vastly from an article– as well it should. An article should attempt to educate on an issue as evenly as possible (even if the author or institute supports one side more than the other), but the whole point of an advertisement is to convey a point of view. In six words, the AJC ad was offering us a vision through the lens of a present reality, saying this is what we have done, can do, and will do better in the future.

    As a parallel, Nike’s “Just do it” ads don’t have to defend the fact that they are doing it or did it, simply that it should be done. And that we should get off our rumps and do whatever that thing is. I see the AJC’s ad similarly.

    As far as Israel not having the best representation of women in the world, I object. We don’t have to be the best if we are working on it. It is the effort that matters. Again, this is not an editorial, but a message that Jews and Israelis care about women’s leadership, support it, and want more. I find the commentary criticizing Israel’s gender inequality– which certainly exists– not to be the issue here at all. If I saw the same advertisement with the same words (and a different country name) with three women on it, even if they were the only ones in the entire society, I would be proud as a woman for the progress we are making worldwide. It might even deserve a place on my refrigerator. I wouldn’t get into the semantics of how many female MPs were sitting in the Uzbeki legislature or the Liberian judiciary.

    Personally, I am a fan of Ms. I read it when I could at US public, university, and school libraries. I enjoyed it and found it worthwhile, important, and educational read.

    It’s easy to say, “It’s just an ad,” but there is also a lot going on now in the Jewish world that is bubbling under the surface. I believe that we are on the cusp of a full fledged renaissance with Israel at its center, so these issues are more than ever on the tip of our minds.

    Groups that feel oppressed in society (even if it historical residue) have a tendency toward being especially sensitive toward issues of racism or mistreatment. I think part of what we are seeing here reflects that. Israel is tired of defending its right to exist, both on paper and in the field. My impression was that the AJC designed this ad to change the focus on Israel, to take a step in changing the valuation on Israel– when in reality it absolutely backfired.

    Now you know how I feel. :) Consider the length a tribute to your good question. Your turn.


  • Mac

    Ultimately, it is a pro-Israel message just as much as it is pro-female. You cannot force people to be pro-Israel — and it seems that Ms is decidedly not.

    However, Ms is making a mistake trying to generate a debate over whether or not Israel is a world leader in championing equality of the sexes. Everything I know and have heard about Israel suggests that they are extremely progressive in this regard.

  • Maya,

    I cannot begin to do your response justice (not to mention that I had already typed several paragraphs when my computer suddenly crashed).

    After reading your opinions and skimming Silow-Carroll’s article, what it really comes down to for me is the question “why only politicians?” As you hinted at in your original article, I believe that it’s in the best interest of both Ms. and the AJC to allow the AJC to re-submit the ad with a broader focus on women in different industries. It’s fishy to me that they would choose only politicians to represent Israel in the first place; additionally, Ms. has a diverse readership, many of whom likely do not agree with Israeli politics.

    In conclusion – I believe Ms. should have allowed the AJC to re-submit, focusing on Israel’s diversity of female leaders and not just its politicians.

  • Hi Jillian,

    I can only tell you what I’ve read and that is that Ms. seems to be giving many reasons for the rejection, not just this one. Not all of them are in line with each other.

    I have no background to speak to what ads they have accepted in the past, what their standard procedure is, or how much communication they have with organizations before the ads are submitted. That would give us a much fuller understanding of the debate.

    In response to the quote provided: yes and no. It depends how you look at it. The Israeli government doesn’t fit these criteria (eg the ad’s content), but the American Jewish Congress (the advertiser) certainly does.


  • Maya,

    You said: “The Israeli government doesn’t fit these criteria (eg the ad’s content), but the American Jewish Congress (the advertiser) certainly does.”

    That is precisely why I question the AJC’s use of the Israeli government in this advertisement! What agenda are they trying to further – their own (a forward-thinking social justice organization) or that of a government they support (which many Ms. readers most likely do not).


    (By the way, fantastic original post if I haven’t said so)

  • Yi Ran Liu

    Hi Maya, thanks for your response to my comment. I should preface my response by saying that I came into this debate with no knowledge of Israeli politics or knowlege about whether the advertiser “promote women’s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence” (BTW I don’t think the question of whether Israel “embody these ideas” is relevant here).

    Given that, I don’t think I am in a position to respond to your views after the first paragraph other than on the point about the difference between advertisements and articles… I’m sorry, but if I do, I’d just be bullshitting :P. So. The 2 points I am in a position to respond to:

    1. paragraph 1 – thanks for acknowledging that you did not read the statement on MS’s website. The whole reason I made my comment was because I was quite puzzled as to what MS is all about after reading your GOV article, and so I clicked through the link in your article to MS and what do I find? A statement making what seems to be valid points to which you did not address in your post. Given that GVO is all about giving readers a balanced and diverse look at things, I thought it necessary to point out the omission.

    2. ads vs articles – i don’t see what relevance the difference between the purpose of ads and that of articles has to whether MS was justified to refuse the ad in question. MS, like any other magazine, refuses ads that they see as undermining their cause, hence why health megazines won’t run things that say the population is generally healthy (whether the population is or is not generally healthy is irrelevant), and ads or articles that talk about the need for people to “have a healthy diet” and “join a gym” would be more welcome. Every publication is trying to say something, so I think they are fully justified to only publishes ads that do not detract from their cause. I think in MS’s view, not only does the ad NOT “promote women’s equality”, the ad does the contrary. I am not saying it does, MS is.

    Just like a magazine advocating an end to human rights violations in Australia would not welcome an ad that says Australia is doing really well with human rights, I think the ad in question may just be the kind of ad that MS doesn’t like. Whether Israel is or is not actually doing well with women’s equality is not a relevant consideration. It is within MS’s rights to reject the ad, just like any other publicationt that has something to say, because from their view point, the ad detracts from their cause.

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