Likud, RZP agree to not join int'l convention to fight violence against women

The outgoing government was supposed to approve Israel's accession to the convention but was blocked by the attorney general.

 Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

A clause in the Likud's coalition agreement with the Religious Zionist party states that "the government will not approve Israel's accession to the Istanbul Convention." This is a convention to combat violence against women, which more than 40 countries in Europe have joined, and among other things, it clarifies that violence against women within the family is not a matter for the individual, but a phenomenon that the state must eradicate through a comprehensive policy.

The outgoing government was supposed to approve Israel's accession to the convention, a move that infuriated right-wing elements claiming that the convention could require the granting of status to many persecuted women. The approval of Israel's accession was blocked by the attorney general since it was during an election period.

What is the Istanbul Convention?

The Istanbul Convention is the first international convention in which the prevention of violence against women is regulated and which recognizes the phenomenon of violence against women, in both the private and public spheres, as a global phenomenon.

The purpose of the convention is to prevent violence against women in general, and domestic violence against women in particular, to protect victims, and to apply appropriate punishment to the perpetrators of the crime. The convention was established for the first time in 2014 and requires the countries that ratified it to act in four areas of activity: preventing violence, protecting victims of violence, prosecuting the attackers and cooperation between relevant parties. 45 countries and the European Union signed the convention, and it was ratified in at least 35 countries, all of which are members of the Council of Europe.

Attempts by the previous government to join the convention

“With all due regret, granting political asylum is not intended and cannot be a solution to any type of difficulty or distress that exists in less developed countries of origin.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar planned to advance Israel's accession to the treaty in the outgoing government, with reservations from two of its sections: the one that requires Israel to grant residency to women with no status who suffer from violence, and the one that requires Israel to compensate victims of violence in a situation where the perpetrator or the insurance does not cover the damage.

 Women take part in a ceremony in memory of women murdered by men, as part of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women events in Tel Aviv, November 24, 2022.  (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Women take part in a ceremony in memory of women murdered by men, as part of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women events in Tel Aviv, November 24, 2022. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Despite this, right-wing organizations expressed opposition to joining the convention because they claimed that the country's reservations on issues related to immigration and gender equality were insufficient. It is estimated that the Religious Zionist party opposes it for the same reason, although the reason for this does not appear in the agreement with it.

In April, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked sent a letter to Sa'ar, detailing many reservations to the convention. Shaked claimed, among other things, that the clauses of the treaty concerning persecution based on gender-based violence open "a door for a population unprecedented in scope to be able to claim refugee status or, unfortunately, for protection against deportation."

Her letter stated, "With all due regret, granting political asylum is not intended and cannot be a solution to any type of difficulty or distress that exists in less developed countries of origin, certainly when it comes to cross-cultural phenomena. Such a reality is of course not desirable from a practical point of view as it is an opening to countless asylum requests on grounds that are difficult to almost impossible to refute, leading to the abuse of the Israeli asylum system."

Shaked claimed, for example, that the Istanbul Convention does not distinguish between physical and psychological violence as grounds for granting refugee status, and this would make it difficult for the state to prove that asylum seekers do not suffer violence in the event of false claims.

Against the background of the pressure exerted by the right, Sa'ar postponed the vote in the government on the issue and later, deputy attorney general, Gil Lemon, froze the proceedings. 

Lemon wrote to Sa'ar that "a government operating during an election period is obliged to exercise restraint in the exercise of its powers when each case must be examined individually." He added that "it seems that there is no urgency in promoting the accession to the convention at the present time, especially in light of the fact that the invitation to join it is valid for five years - such that the incoming government can request to join the convention."

In his letter, the deputy also mentioned considerations that support the completion of the process of joining the convention, even though it is an election period, including the fact that the work on the application for joining began in 2016 and was delayed due to the elections to the Knesset and the lack of a state budget between 2019-2021, but in the end, he determined that the move is not applicable during such a period.

Activists, politicians express outrage at Likud-RZP agreement

"The fact that the prime minister-designate is willing to abandon women to suffering, mental torture and continuous violence is unacceptable," the Association of Aid Centers said in response to the agreement. "The price for this decision will continue to be paid by women and children, who suffer from terrorism inside and outside the home every day, but Bibi and [Religious Zionist leader Bezalel] Smotrich do not count do not care about their mental and physical torture. This is a wrong, infuriating decision that sets us back years in the fight against violence."

Social Equality Minister Merav Cohen accused prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu of neglecting women. "In Netanyahu's liquidation sale, women also pay the price," she tweeted. "Israel will not join the international convention that aims to provide a holistic and comprehensive response to the difficult phenomenon of violence against women, of which there is a professional consensus on its importance. Where will we direct the shame..."

Energy Minister Karin Elharar also protested the move, stating "Violence against women is a phenomenon that must be eradicated and it cuts across camps, but Netanyahu is so weak and blackmailed that he agreed in a coalition agreement not to join the struggle. He probably had nothing to sell anymore. Shame."

"There is no limit to cynicism - there are also those who turn this humanitarian issue into a political issue," said the chairman of the Naamat organization, Hagit Par. "Joining the Istanbul Convention will not only not threaten Israel's Jewishness, but will add additional content to its Jewish values."

Rivka Neuman, director of the division for the advancement of the status of women at the WIZO, said: "Since 2011, Israel has refrained from joining the international convention whose essence is a commitment by the state to act to eradicate violence. Israel is a state of law, a state committed to the safety of its citizens and the children exposed to violence in their homes. My heart breaks at the thought of twenty families whose children will become orphans in 2023 - as a predetermined fate. My heart aches at the thought of a million men, women and children trapped in the cycle of violence. This is not a partisan issue of right or left, secular or religious, sexual orientation or civil status. I call on prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to remove the issue of eradicating violence from any negotiation and protect us all."