Two meetings on women’s issues took place simultaneously only steps apart in the Knesset Monday, but their perspectives differed by miles.
The Knesset Committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality held a meeting on helping women get out of sex work and abusive situations, while the Committee on Distributive Justice and Social Equality discussed women who make false complaints to the police about their ex-husbands.
The former concerned a proposal to make the hiring of a prostitute illegal, and for the state to fund rehabilitation programs for the estimated 12,500 sex workers in Israel. The Justice Ministry expressed full support for the bill, saying that its research found that criminalizing “johns” – those who hire prostitutes – is the best preventive option, emphasizing social stigma of frequenting sex workers as an effective factor.
Deputy Attorney-General Amit Marari said: “Our stance is that prostitution doesn’t come out of a rational choice... We are saying to the customer that even if he does not see it, these women are in distress, and he is part of a phenomenon that must be eradicated.”
The latter meeting was deeply controversial and faced attempts to prevent it from taking place.
Feminist organizations petitioned the Knesset, saying the discussion was an attempt to silence victims of domestic violence, and Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon ruled that the topic doesn’t fall under the committee’s purview. In response, Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch held a flash vote to extend the authority of his fellow Likud MK Miki Zohar’s committee.
Hundreds of divorced fathers have joined the Likud in recent years who are hopeful the party’s MKs will pass laws more favorable to them.
Police have received an annual average of 20,000 domestic violence complaints in recent years.
Of those, 12,000 are thrown out for various reasons, while around 180 are investigated on charges of false complaints, according to numbers cited in the meeting.
Women’s groups argue that many women do not press charges following domestic violence complaints out of fear of future attacks.
In the end, the discussion took place with no one representing the side of the apparently large number of domestic violence complaints that are legitimate.
Asked about the absence of feminist organizations at the meeting, Israel Women’s Network spokeswoman Eleanor Davidoff said: “The men’s organizations can talk to themselves.”
Knesset Committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women chairwoman Aida Touma- Sliman said: “It’s horrifying and shameful that someone in this Knesset has the audacity to hold this meeting after 16 women were murdered by their husbands in Israel this year, four in one week this month.”
Zohar said: “I’m sorry women’s organizations chose to boycott the meeting, but it’s their choice and I respect it.”
The MKs leading the meeting, titled “Dealing with False Complaints - Are Men Equal in the Eyes of the Law?” defended their position.
“I respect women’s organizations and understand their concerns,” Zohar said. “The fact is, many women are victims of violence, and some were murdered... At the same time, we have to say there are men who paid a heavy price because of false complaints. There is a phenomenon of many women deciding this is an efficient tool to reach goals related to custody, promotions at work, revenge for cheating men or things like that.”
Zohar took police to task for not looking into more of the closed cases, and for not providing information as to whether men or women are behind most of the false complaints.
Kisch said some divorce lawyers suggest that women lie to police and say they were abused because there are no consequences for doing so.
“It’s absurd that they can break the law and ruin the other side’s life. Why do divorced men commit suicide? Because normative men are thrown in jail. I want to tear the mask off this phenomenon,” he said.
Likud MK Nava Boker said that false complaints hurt true victims of domestic violence and called for greater punishments for those who lie to the police.
“No one can accuse me of being against women,” Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovski said, adding: “When a woman complains, the man is not considered innocent until proven guilty, and then, how can he prove anything?
Jesse Shalev, a divorced father whose wife filed two false complaints of domestic violence with the police, said Malinovski’s point is the real problem.
“Men need to be treated as innocent until proven guilty, like every other crime,” Shalev told The Jerusalem Post. “If there’s no benefit to making a false claim, then they won’t make them. At the first complaint, he is automatically considered a criminal with a two-week restraining order, and only the questions are asked.
“False claims are a tool used against men to punish them... False claims are often used to ‘prove’ the husband is not worthy of being a parent, to get the wife more custody and child support – and that’s without any proof. So many problems would be solved by removing the guilty-until-proven-innocent standard,” he added.
The counterargument is that, in true cases of violence, the police want to separate the two sides.
In Shalev’s case, he said, his wife wanted to get him out of their shared apartment, in which he had the right to continue living at the time. He was unable to see his daughter for two weeks in addition to not having access to his possessions in the home.Jamie Halper and Isabel Feinstein contributed to this report.
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