A private bill to dismantle the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women passed 56-48 in a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon.
The Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women is an independent government body that has been responsible for advancing gender equality in Israel since it was founded in 1998.
The bill was introduced by MK Limor Son Har-Melech (Otzma Yehudit) to dismantle the body in favor of establishing one under the authority of the Minister for the Advancement of the Status of Women, May Golan.
Son Har-Melech has stated that the bill will bring about "true equality" for women in Israel, accusing the current infrastructure of being outdated, exclusive, and discriminatory to a large percentage of women in Israel.
Ordinarily, once a bill is introduced and passes the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, 45 days must pass before it can be brought to the plenum for a preliminary reading. However, the bill was granted fast-track status, allowing for it to be brought forward for a vote immediately.
While the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women first worked as a body within the Prime Minister's Office before being transferred to operate within the Social Equality Ministry, this move would mark the first time since it was founded 25 years ago that the authority would become a political body, subject to the decisions and directions of a government minister.
In addition to the authority's policies and budgets becoming subject to government approval, under the new law, the director of the authority will be selected by the government minister and will not be required to have any experience in the relevant field to serve in the position.
Prior to the vote, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid sharply attacked May Golan during the debate, accusing her of incitement against women.
"Every 10 days, a woman is murdered on your watch," he charged, "have you no shame?"
Chair for the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality MK Pnina Tamano-Shata accused the government of becoming a "liquidation company," pointing to the removal of nine female director-generals from their roles since the current government took office as an example.
"They are working to dismantle the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women while blatantly ignoring the deteriorating status of women in Israel, the rising violence against women, and the skyrocketing number of femicide-related murders since the government was established," she said.
"This law turns the Authority into a political body, damaging the credibility of the only professional body responsible for promoting women and preventing gender discrimination in Israel," she added.
"The law must undergo a professional and in-depth examination by the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women, which will determine its future and make changes to it, ensuring that it contributes to the status of women in Israel, and to make it helps women in Israel instead of harming them."
Bill "will allow equal opportunities for all women" - Har-Melech
Contrary to those opposed to the bill, Son Har-Melech is confident that the bill "will allow equal opportunities for all women in Israel, without distinction," she said on Wednesday ahead of the vote.
"Since the establishment of the right-wing government, I've heard over and over again how destructive this government is," she said. "But, miraculously, despite all the challenges, the government stood up, the sun continues to shine and women continue to have influence, to grow and to flourish."
According to the Otzma Yehudit MK, the new authority will end discrimination against women in a way that the current body cannot, by providing equal opportunities to all women rather than just "one stream."
"In Israel, there are also right-wing and conservative women. Mizrahi women, women from the periphery, settlers, Haredi women, Ethiopian, Druze, Muslim, and Christian women, and they all have the right to live according to their faith and the morals of their conscience," she continued. "Recognition of the status of women in Israel requires respecting a woman's true will."
"I want to remind everyone - true liberalism is respecting the human rights of all people. Right and left, religious and secular. Every woman is a woman," she concluded before moving on to outline the legal parameters of the bill. "I will not allow them to determine and define for us what female empowerment is or what the limits and boundaries of our gender are."