saar - Emil Salman - December 9 2011
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar. Photo by Emil Salman
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Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar was the only minister to attend a ministerial meeting Tuesday to discuss the increasing exclusion of women from the public sphere.

The Ministerial Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women in Israeli Society, headed by Minister of Culture Limor Livnat, was put in charge of organizing a task force to consider imposing sanctions against businesses that discriminate against women. However, aside from Sa’ar and one other minister who arrived only minutes before the meeting’s end, no other ministers attended.

Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, who heads the Israel Defense Forces personnel directorate, spoke to the attendees about the policy on women singing in military ceremonies, following several instances in which religious male soldiers refused to attend an event in which women were singing. Some have also refused to accept commands from female officers.

In another recent instance of tensions over women in the military, female soldiers were asked to move away from the main area at which a Simhat Torah post-holiday event was being held.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a stand against public discrimination against women.

"I want to say clearly and unequivocally: I am resolutely opposed to this phenomenon," he said. "This is a restricted phenomenon that does not reflect the ultra-Orthodox population as a whole, but it does exist."

"Women's place in the public sphere must be guaranteed and equal," said Netanyahu, who was speaking at an event to honor the war against human trafficking. "Equality between men and women is total. So it has been and so it will continue to be. This trend contradicts Jewish tradition: 'Its ways are ways of pleasantness.'"

President Shimon Peres, who also took part in the event, said all forms of discrimination are unacceptable.