Is Protecting Women’s Rights in Israel Taken Seriously?


In his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday Prime Minister Netanyahu marked Israel's observation of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and heard a report from Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat on the "worrying increase" in violence against women. 

Livnat, who also chairs the Ministerial Committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women, said the number of women who were murdered by their partners in the past year has grown alarmingly. She also discussed the exclusion of, and discrimination against, women in the public sphere, according to the Communiqué.

Clearly there is a lot of work to be done by her committee, and one good place to begin is the Ministry of Defense.

The MOD apologized Monday for strip searching a pregnant American photojournalist during a security check as she crossed recently from Gaza into Israel.  Out of concern for her unborn baby, she asked not to be forced to go through the X-ray machine. But soldiers forced her to go through anyway — three times — as soldiers "watched and laughed from above," she wrote in a letter to the ministry. She was then taken to a room where he was strip searched by a female worker. 

Lynsey Addario, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, was on assignment for the New York Times.  On Monday the MOD issued a half-hearted apology, insisting proper procedures were followed and her request to avoid the X-ray machine hadn't been properly relayed.

In an even more serious vein, 19 reserve IDF major generals wrote to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz urging them to act against a growing problem of religious discrimination aimed at women in the army. 

Ha'aretz said, "The letter constitutes a new, dramatic level of intervention in an issue that has sparked controversy in the army in recent months." The generals warned "the forcible imposition of behavioral norms suited to a small portion of the religious population upon the army as a whole" threatens to cause "serious damage" to the IDF as well as "the fundamental values of Israeli society."     

The letter was in response to numerous recent events, notably the boycotting of military ceremonies by religious cadets due to women singing, Ha'aretz reported.

Here are two good opportunities for Livnat to demonstrate that her Ministerial Committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women is more than just another empty PR gesture aimed at winning votes.  But does this Israeli government have the courage to stand up to the powerful religious establishment that wants to make sure women stay in their place?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.