Last year, Merav Michaeli made what many would describe as a strange decision.
Ms Michaeli was one of Israel’s top TV presenters and producers with a career that spanned entertainment, documentaries and a regular column in the prestigious Ha’aretz daily.
However, in 2012, Ms Michaeli decided to enter politics. Having been elected in the 2013 general election on a Labour ticket, she is now a member of Knesset on the opposition benches.
It is not a decision Ms Michaeli made lightly, but she thinks it was the right one for her. She says: “I didn’t just change careers overnight. I had been campaigning on feminist issues since 1997, and have had a lot of requests to be involved in politics. This time I was approached by the then Labour leader Amir Peretz to come on board. At first I said ‘no way’, but the idea stuck. I thought a lot about this question of whether you can do more from the inside or the outside. Is it worth the price of being in the political system?”
Her decision quickly paid off. “Two months in I managed to pass a law that prevents people from going to jail as a result of having civil debt. This is a very tangible thing — it’s basic human rights.”
Although she has some radical views on women’s rights and inequality, she did not want to follow the current Israel trend and set up her own party. “I think that is irresponsible. It’s important to be able to work within the framework of existing parties. It weakens democracy when so many parties just pop up then disappear. It makes it hard for people to trust in the system.”
Ms Michaeli, in London last week to address the New Israel Fund’s annual human rights dinner, feels Israel needs to make rapid progress in a number of areas. “We need to end the conflict with the Palestinians. I think it is solvable — it is just a matter of having the political will.”
She has also long campaigned on women’s rights, and now she thinks that there should be a “paradigm shift” on marriage. “Marriage should be cancelled as a legal institution. If you want to live with someone, by all means make up a contract, but the legal institution of marriage is a negative thing. The fact that children are still called after their fathers shows how patriarchy is so dominant.”
Ms Michaeli is determined to do something about the wealth imbalance in Israeli society. “There is more inequality in Israel than in the rest of the Western world. The current government does not believe in changing this. We cannot simply rely on capitalism to put things right. We need more services and more welfare.”
She also adamant that something needs to be done to address discrimination. “Arab Israelis make up 20 per cent of the population but there has never been an Arab party in a government coalition. We must overcome this.”
Unlike in Britain, MKs are not allowed to do any extra-parliamentary work, so Ms Michaeli’s media career came to a halt. But she says she has not had time for regrets. “I’m so horribly busy. What I do is so intense and so fascinating that I can’t say that I miss it. I’m very content with what I do now.”