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Anat Thon-Ashkenazy
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No professionalism, no expertise – and no women

The Authority for the Advancement of Women's Status and agencies like it are being gutted along with protections for women
Protesters supporting women's rights dressed as characters from "The Handmaid's Tale" TV series attend a protest against the government's plans to overhaul the judicial system, Tel Aviv, Israel, March 11, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Protesters supporting women's rights dressed as characters from "The Handmaid's Tale" TV series attend a protest against the government's plans to overhaul the judicial system, Tel Aviv, Israel, March 11, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

“Ask the fellow who sleeps next to you at night,” is how MK Nissim Vatouri answered journalist Geula Even on the Channel 13 Morning Show, when she asked him why he thought the standard of reasonableness should be eliminated. Instead of providing a relevant answer suitable to his role as a Knesset member representing the coalition, which is pushing this controversial bill, he attacked the veteran broadcaster and reminded her that she is not an independent professional journalist and should consult her politician husband (former Justice Minister MK Gideon Sa’ar). A similar vein was evident in the unbelievable letter that Minister David Amsalem sent to Michal Rosenbaum, the director of the Government Companies Authority, in which he told her “don’t contact me in the future” and added that she was welcome to be in touch with “your good friend and partner in the putsch, Gil Limon”— without mentioning, of course, that Limon is the Deputy Attorney General and not her friend.

This comes following the government meeting earlier this week in which false accusations were hurled at Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, without any appropriate professional discussion. The ministers explicitly raised proposals on firing her and insinuated that the motive behind her opposition to Government legislative proposals does not lie in their content but rather in her “loyalty” to the previous justice minister, who appointed her to her position. In the new world, we will soon be living in, where the Supreme Court will no longer be able to intervene and halt clearly unreasonable actions, such charges can easily be considered as legitimate grounds for her dismissal.

Women are not the only target of this government’s demolition of any commitment to public service and its view that governance rests exclusively on political loyalty rather than on professionalism. But the combination of this attitude with the outdated notion that a professional woman is not a free agent, but rather a marionette with a man standing behind her and pulling the strings, makes this phenomenon even more dangerous for women.

This is not only about ideas expressed in empty statements or letters, it’s also about legislation in the same vein. This week, for instance, a bill submitted by MK Limor Son Har-Melech (Otzma Yehudit) passed the initial vote in Knesset. The bill bears the hopeful title, “A Bill to Advance Women.” In fact, this proposal, whose sponsor just hosted a conference at the Knesset on “the right to gender segregation,” is the antithesis of promoting women. It is part of the government’s assault on professional agencies, including firing their directors, who are eminently qualified professionals. The bill would place the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women under the full control of an incumbent minister; its director would henceforth be a political appointee. Evidently, the government does not believe that professional expertise matters, only loyalty counts.

In practice, even before the elimination of the standard of reasonableness is passed into law, the current attitude has led to the effective disbanding of the civil service and of agencies whose raison d’etre is their professional independence. In the new plan, professionalism is meaningless, and reasonableness unnecessary. The transfer of power to elected officials and immunization against judicial review of their decisions, even if grossly unreasonable, is another step in the undermining of the professional echelon and the elimination of any agency or individual that could express an opinion other than that of the minister.

Professionalism is a critical element of all public service. But in the case of agencies whose role is to protect human rights, such as the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women (and others, such as the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission), professionalism has infinitely more importance. The Authority is, of course, a government unit, but frequently its role is to defend and protect women whose rights have been infringed upon by the government. Any blow to its professionalism and objectivity that leaves it wholly under the minister’s thumb would leave it an empty shell.

There is no doubt that the first victims of this government’s assault are incumbent women officials (and those already forced out, such as the previous director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, Ayelet Razin Bet Or). But we must not delude ourselves that they will be the last casualties. The primary and immediate victims will be women in Israel – all of them.

About the Author
Adv. Anat Thon-Ashkenazy is the director of The Center for Democratic Values and Institutions at the Israel Democracy Institute.
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