Women hold alternative conference in Tel Aviv

Woman for Woman calls to examine issues that are not part of the military and security discourse.

As the second full day of the Herzliya Conference came to an end Monday evening, an alternative conference on the subject of national strength and security took place in Tel Aviv. Organized by the Coalition of Women for Peace and by the Isha L'Isha (Woman for Woman) organization, the conference in Tel Aviv called for an examination of issues that are not part of the country's military and security discourses. National security, the women speaking at the conference argued, had to do with the personal security of Israeli citizens, with adequate medical care and access to education, and protection against racism and violence. Edna Marcus, chair of the Association for Patients' Rights, spoke of the need to change the country's healthcare policies. "Today's Ministry of Health is not run by the minister of health, but by the finance minister and the director of the Finance Ministry," Marcus said. "Health is measured not in people, but in numbers, and the slogan is 'pay more and get less.'" "There is tremendous discrimination in health services," Marcus said, adding that "the country's public healthcare system was cheating its users in broad daylight." "Patients in public healthcare clinics are each allotted a total of six minutes to meet with their doctor," Marcus added, saying that such conditions were unacceptable for both patients and doctors. "For several years," said MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad), "we have protested the exclusion of women participants from the Herzliya conference, even though women have what to say about every one of the subjects discussed there, and I find that disgraceful." Gal-On focused her discussion on the sex trade in Israel, and on what she described as "the women that are raped and forced to work in the sex industry against their will." "What is taking place here - not only in the sex trade but in the employment of foreign workers - is a foreign slave trade," Gal-On said. Israel, she said, had become a country that "treats women as a consumer product and dehumanizes them in a way that is detrimental to all women, because it allows women to be perceived as objects for sale." Shira Ohayun, a former teacher and a Kadima activist, spoke about the need to focus on the future of Israeli education, and on the way in which the country's education needs were not met by the Dovrat Reform. "Dovrat was a public relations act that came to complete the privatization of the country's education system," Ohayon said. She added that the devaluation of teachers under Livnat, and more generally in recent years, could not be examined separately from questions of gender, noting the fact that most of the teachers being labeled as inadequate were women. Other women invited to speak at the alternative conference were Labor activist and social activist Tami Molad-Hayu, civil rights lawyer and feminist activist Neta Amar and spokeswoman for the Mosawa advocacy center for Israeli Arabs Abir Kopty.