JERUSALEM (Reuters) - With Israeli pollsters predicting a close national election on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is wooing female swing voters whose support could help her clinch victory.
Campaign ads for Livni’s centrist Kadima party splashed over billboards and across websites promise a “different kind of prime minister” and urge Israelis to elect the country’s first woman prime minister in three decades.
Livni, 50, an ex-Mossad agent, had avoided playing the “gender card” for fear of appearing weak in a male-dominated society where frequent wars with Arab neighbours tend to make generals and other military figures more popular as politicians.
But after failing to win enough of a boost from a 22-day offensive in Gaza that was widely popular in Israel, Livni has added feminist-tinged rhetoric to her repertoire, mixing calls to smash Hamas militants with complaints of male chauvinism.
She has focussed her campaign efforts in recent days on female audiences, urging them to her Israel’s first female premier since Golda Meir in the 1970s.
“I make decisions, not coffee,” Livni told an audience in Tel Aviv of her role in the assault on Gaza, countering critics who have said she lacks high-level experience.
“This can also be a country in which women decide their future,” she told a rally in Jerusalem to women wearing pink T-shirts saying: “The time has come for women to be first.”
The latest polls indicate at least 15 percent of Israelis are still undecided.
Polls show the lead of right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister, narrowing after the war to a two to four seat advantage over Livni -- close enough for a statistical dead heat.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak, an ex-general running as head of the leftist Labour party, has seen his support double since the Gaza war in which 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died, but still trails far behind both Livni and Netanyahu.
Some say Livni has put a spotlight on the gender issue in response to what some see as a sexist slant to the election ads of her rivals.
A Likud poster mounted on billboards nationwide reads “She’s not up to the job,” next to a photograph of Livni leaning on her elbow, her head in her hands.
Rina Bar-Tal, chairwoman of the Israel Women’s Network, said the poster’s tone “is going to win her (Livni) many votes. There are women who pass by these posters and say, ‘I wasn’t going to vote for her but I certainly will now’.”
Tamar Hermann, a political scientist, said the poster was a clever jab at a candidate some Israelis see as lacklustre.
“She isn’t a strong candidate, because her agenda is too equivocating,” said Hermann, a dean at Israel’s Open University. Some voters were confused by Livni’s mixed messages of promoting peace with Palestinians and war on Hamas in Gaza, she said.
“It is sexist to say Livni lacks experience. Here the (male) generals think they are God,” Shulamit Aloni, a retired dovish lawmaker, told Reuters of Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians and a senior cabinet minister through two wars.
“Has she not gained the experience of deciding to order whether someone should get killed?” Aloni said.
Besides all a good leader needs is some skilled staff, added Aloni, a former education minister and founder of the left-wing Meretz party. “Does Obama have experience in running America? He is learning on the job with the help of some good advisers.”
Editing by Alison Williams