Women in the IDF.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Responding to accusations that he is sabotaging efforts to combat gender discrimination, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday said he is holding meetings with officials on both sides of the issue and will continue to fight the phenomenon.
Last week, according to a report in Haaretz, Mandelblit agreed to tone down aspects of the fight against gender discrimination, in a meeting with United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, Shas chairman Arye Deri, Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of Bayit Yehudi,.
Reports of the meeting were highly specific, giving them credibility, and until Monday, Mandelblit had not made anything more than general denials about how the meeting was characterized.
Also, whereas his deputy Dina Zilber had been give high marks for leading efforts to combat gender discrimination, that authority has been transferred to the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women. Some of Mandelblit’s critics had interpreted transferring authority away from Zilber as sidelining her so that enforcement against gender discrimination would be more lax.
The combination of these two events led to the accusations that Mandelblit was caving in to pressure from haredim on the issue, and to several formal inquiries from top women’s rights advocates.
In two letters released to the public on Monday, Mandelblit’s top adviser, Gil Limon, laid out his position on the issue generally, and denied that he was undermining Zilber because of her strength in combating discrimination.
According to the letters, “there is no change in the attorney-general’s principled position that oppressing women in the public sector is illegal discrimination.”
The letters responded to letters from Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and Na’amat women’s labor Zionist organization president Galia Wolloch.
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria
said that under no circumstances should the status of women be turned back to the situation before the government adopted a series of measures in 2014 against the exclusion of women from the public realm.
“Excluding women from the public realm was a dark period in the history of the State of Israel, and we can’t go back to it,” said Azaria, in reference to the early years of the decade in which there was a profusion of gender separate bus lines as well as gender separation in some bank and post office branches, medical clinics and shops in the haredi community.
This phenomenon has been reduced in recent years, but still exists in hard-line haredi communities in parts of the country.
“It seems some people have forgotten, but in Jerusalem there were separate banks, separate sidewalks, women traveled on the back buses, there were supermarkets where women could not enter,” said Azaria, who fought the phenomenon while serving as a member of the city council.
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, who served in the last Knesset as chairwoman of the Committee for the Status of Women, said that the achievements obtained by the previous government were now under threat.
“The amendments obtained with great effort in the last Knesset are being crassly trampled upon, as a result of extortion and [people who are] drunk on power,” said Lavie in reference to the MKs leading efforts to soften the measures prohibiting discrimination against women.
“As soon as you make it easier to discriminate against women, we will very quickly find ourselves with gender segregation, and the disappearance of women from official ceremonies, public services, billboards and advertisements, and their gradual exclusion from the public space,” said the MK, adding that she had requested an emergency hearing of the Knesset’s Law and Constitution Committee on the issue.
There is an ongoing culture war between aspects of general society and the haredi sector over the treatment of women in public spaces, such as buses.
In his letter responses to Nahmias-Verbin and Wolloch, while Mandelblit admitted that he had held the meeting in question, he said that he will also soon hold a meeting with Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman, the chairwoman of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. He invited Nahmias-Verbin to join the meeting as well.
As such, he said that there was no more significance to his meeting with the ultra-Orthodox party leaders than to his upcoming meeting with women’s rights advocates.
Further, he said that Zilber would still work on specific legal issues related to gender discrimination and that it was not illogical for the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women to take over the other efforts to combat the phenomenon.
Shaked’s spokesman has declined to comment.