Livnat: We cannot forfeit rights of women in Israel

Minister demands A-G give long-delayed report on discrimination; Yesh Atid, Bayit Yehudi team up on feminist legislation.

Limor Livnat (photo credit: Yoav Dudkevich)
Limor Livnat
(photo credit: Yoav Dudkevich)
The Justice Ministry unreasonably delayed the release of a report on discrimination against women, Culture and Sport Minister and chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for the Status of Women Limor Livnat (Likud Beytenu) said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, MKs Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) proposed legislation requiring at least four women to be on the panel that selects religious judges, or dayanim, which currently has no female members.
“This delay is disproportionate, to say the least, and allows the exclusion of women to increase and spread,” Livnat said at a special meeting of the ministerial committee.
According to Livnat, she and the Authority to Promote the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office constantly receive complaints of discrimination.
“This situation must end immediately,” she said. “We can no longer forfeit the rights of women in Israel.”
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein formed a committee to prevent discrimination against women in December 2011, which was meant to present recommendations in March 2012, but has yet to submit a report.
Deputy Attorney-General Sarit Dana, who led the committee, promised Livnat she would present her with the report by the end of this week.
Some of the issues mentioned in the document include forbidding haredi radio stations affiliated with the Second Authority for Television and Radio to discriminate against female broadcasters, and allowing women to give eulogies at funerals, with the Religious Services Ministry sanctioning hevra kadishas (burial societies) that do otherwise.
Noa Kantman, a woman who was recently harassed when she refused to sit in the back of a bus with predominantly haredi passengers, described her experience to the committee.
Transportation Ministry director-general Uzi Yitzhaki ordered an investigation of the incident. In addition, he said the ministry would increase supervision by female inspectors and reestablish a hotline for complaints about women being sent to the back of buses.
Lavie and Muallem proposed their legislation to install women in the dayanim selection committee on Sunday, ahead of International Women’s Day, which is on Friday, saying female participation in the panel is the only way they can take part in determining the character of religious courts.
The legislation would have half of the representatives of the government, Knesset and Bar Association be female, and a female rabbinical pleader be the 11th member of the committee.
“Religious courts are responsible for women’s status as Jews in the State of Israel,” the bill explains. “In the current rabbinical courts, according to Jewish law, there are only male dayanim. The courts deal with women’s issues and men and women appear before the court.”
A similar bill was proposed by MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beytenu) in the last Knesset, but was vetoed in January by haredi parties, which, according to the previous coalition agreement, were allowed to reject any legislation changing the religious status quo. Hotovely’s bill called for two women to be on the dayanim selection panel.
The fate of Lavie and Muallem’s proposal depends on the makeup of the next coalition. If their parties are in the government without haredi parties, it could have a chance of passing, but if Shas and United Torah Judaism are in the coalition, it would be less likely to become law.
“We all protest when we see examples of women being excluded from public spaces, but avert our eyes when it happens in the most obvious way, in a place with great influence,” Lavie said.
“The panel to appoint dayanim directly affects women, and the fact that it does not include even one woman proves we must pass a law to make sure women are fairly represented.”
Muallem pointed out that half of the people appearing before rabbinical courts are women, adding that the legislation would strengthen Israeli society’s connection to Judaism while acting within halachic frameworks.