As the world prepares to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Wednesday, the future of Israel's National Hot Line for Battered Women and Children at Risk is in doubt, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to representatives of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO), which currently runs the hot line together with the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the emergency telephone service that provides private counseling and practical advice to battered women and children will soon be combined into a general national hot line for all matters connected to social welfare.
"A woman who has finally found the courage, after years of suffering, to call someone for help does not really want to be held in a telephone line until their call is answered by an operator," wrote Yochi Feller, director of WIZO Israel, in a letter to Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog last week.
"Victims of domestic violence, including children and teens at risk, are a particularly weak population, and they need personal and immediate assistance," she stressed.
However, a spokesman for the ministry told the Post Monday that the idea was to bring together all the currently available help lines under one number (118), similar to what is provided by the police or medical services.
"We have nothing against WIZO, and we work with them on many different projects. We just believe that it will be easier for the public to deal with one main number," he said, explaining that the ministry had already put out tenders for operating the service and that it would provide professional training to those manning the phones.
"There will be staff, including social workers, who will be able to help the callers on most subjects, and there will be no waiting time for calls," he added, noting that the ministry was looking to utilize state-of-the-art technology for the service.
However, Nurit Kaufman, who is director of the Violence against Women department at WIZO and has been working in the field for some 25 years, said she felt strongly that victims of domestic violence needed to be treated separately.
"If these women do not feel they will get the full attention and a sympathetic ear, then they will simply not call," she said, reiterating Feller's remarks.
Kaufman noted that WIZO had been the first women's organization to set up a hot line for battered women in 1987 and had been running the line (1-800-220-000) together with the ministry since 2005.
"We do hope to continue with our hot line, but it really depends on whether we find funding for it or not," she said.