Think About It: Why the government can’t deal with violence against women

For the prime minister, this visit was apparently his first direct encounter with battered women, and he seemed genuinely shocked and even confused.

Women show their support for Tuesday's strike over violence against women, writing on their hands "state of emergency" (photo credit: I AM A WOMAN-I AM STRIKING)
Women show their support for Tuesday's strike over violence against women, writing on their hands "state of emergency"
(photo credit: I AM A WOMAN-I AM STRIKING)
On November 25, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara visited a shelter in Jerusalem for women who suffer from violence in the family, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
For the prime minister, this visit was apparently his first direct encounter with battered women, and he seemed genuinely shocked and even confused. Nevertheless, the event and its aftermath raised issues that indicate some very serious faults in the way our government, its head and its members think and operate.
The first issue came up during the Netanyahus’ visit to the shelter. One member of the shelter’s staff asked Netanyahu why he and all members of the coalition had voted against a proposal in the Knesset plenum on November 21, to set up a parliamentary committee of inquiry on violence against women. Netanyahu answered rather sheepishly that the coalition had voted against the proposal because it was raised by the opposition. To be exact (though this was not said explicitly by the Prime Minister), it was raised by the Arab chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, MK Aida Touma-Sliman.
To Sara’s credit it should be said that she responded immediately, saying that she was not aware of the incident (doesn’t she listen to the news?) and that the issue of violence in the family should not be a question of coalition-opposition politics. Was she scolding her husband?
The very same day Netanyahu described his visit that morning to the shelter at the weekly Government meeting, and proposed that a ministerial committee on violence against women be established, to be chaired by himself. As an instant expert on the subject (as noted above, he was exposed to the issue for the first time only several hours previously), Netanyahu pointed out that the problem should be attacked from two directions – that of the women as the victims, and that of the men as the perpetrators.
Some of the ministers attending the meeting pointed out that such a ministerial committee already existed under Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, that in July 2017 this committee had issued a plan on what action should be taken, but that a budget of 250 million shekels designated to implement it had for some reason not been approved by the Finance Ministry.
This information didn’t seem to change Netanyahu’s mind about heading the committee, the explanation of his office being that the committee must be headed by the prime minister because only he can get things moving. In other words, only Netanyahu, who currently serves as prime minister – as well as minister for Foreign Affairs, Health and Defense – can effectively deal with the issue of violence against women. The thought that perhaps he should simply order Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to transfer 250 million shekels to Erdan apparently was not even considered.
What is wrong with all of this?
First of all, with regarding the issue of establishing a parliamentary committee of inquiry, Netanyahu’s basic assumption appears to be that the coalition should block any initiative raised by the opposition just because it comes from the opposition. This demonstrates a faulty approach to democracy and the position of the opposition. It is not unreasonable to assume that one of the goals of the coalition in general and the prime minister in particular, is to prevent the opposition from achieving anything of significance, so that they can then accuse the opposition of doing nothing but talk. This is especially dangerous in a situation where the legitimacy of the opposition is constantly called into question, for no other reason than that it expresses positions that are different from those of the coalition, or points out lacunae in the coalition’s activities.
THE SAME, incidentally, applies to Netanyahu’s approach to his potential rivals for leadership. Netanyahu’s decision to push Erdan aside rather than help him implement the decisions adopted by his committee was undoubtedly affected by his systematic efforts to prevent his rivals from being able to take credit for important achievements.
Recently it was reported that Netanyahu said he would gladly retire if only there were someone to replace him. But how can anyone emerge as an alternative leader, even within the Likud itself, if Netanyahu is busy blocking anyone from doing so? Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that Erdan is the man, and I am not saying that Erdan can bring about a change on the issue of violence against women (he is too busy fighting windmills like BDS). It is just that no one is allowed to raise his head, and if someone does, he is immediately accused of planning a putsch.
Another problem that this saga highlights is that in this government many ministers seem to be at war with other ministers and eager to see them fail (an extreme case was that of former defense minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett). What other explanation can there be for Kahlon’s refusal to approve the allocation of the funds required to implement the plan to deal with violence against women?
I don’t believe that another parliamentary committee of inquiry on the subject of violence against women is what is needed to resolve the problem. Back in 1995-6, toward the end of the term of the 14th Knesset (Rabin’s second government), the newly formed Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, which was headed in rotation by MKs Limor Livnat (Likud) and Yael Dayan (Labor), sat as a committee of inquiry to examine the question of the murder of women by their spouses. I prepared a study on all such murders that had occurred from 1990 to 1995 for the committee.
The findings of my study, based on police files to which I was given full access and the minutes of all the district courts’ verdicts in these cases, are as relevant today as they were more than 20 years ago, when the number of such murders (of women by their spouses) was not much smaller than today. Among my findings was the fact that at least some of the murders took place without there having been any previous violence in the family.
The committee’s conclusions and recommendations were not much different from those of subsequent reports and recommendations – including those of Erdan’s committee. In other words, what is required is not another committee, whether parliamentary, ministerial or even national, but action based on the reports of past committees. These invariably include recommendations for steps to be taken to protect women from violence and murder, and to deter and punish violent men who direct their violence and murderous instincts against women of all ages and backgrounds.
Back to November 21. Had the coalition pointed out that rather than establishing a new and superfluous parliamentary committee of inquiry toward the end of the term of the 20th Knesset, it could undertake to start implementing the conclusions of the Erdan committee, it would have won an easy victory over the opposition, without appearing to be obstructing progress.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though the problem of violence against women is anywhere near being dealt with effectively and Netanyahu is certainly not the man to do the job. Israel needs a government that is truly committed to human welfare in general and that of women in particular. Our current government isn’t.