'No-shows' Are Main Story at Knesset Meeting on Status of Women in Israel

Decision made for inter-ministerial panel to be set up, headed by Limor Livnat and Daniel Hershkowitz, following the removal of women from ads in Jerusalem and segregation among ultra-Orthodox community.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Only Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat showed up Tuesday to a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on the Status of Women, the body charged with examining the exclusion of women from the public sphere. Livnat is the chairwoman of the ministerial committee.

Environmental Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin, Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and deputy ministers Lea Nass and Gila Gamliel failed to show up to Tuesday's meeting.

Women singing on Jerusalem's String Bridge in protest of the exclusion of women from public areas, Nov. 11, 2011.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Agricultural Minister Orit Noked, who had been attending another conference, managed to make an appearance a few minutes before the session ended.

For her part, Landver said she never got notice of the meeting. Erdan was at an environmental conference in Ashdod. Margi's office said he was home sick Tuesday, and Begin responded in advance that he would be unable to come due to a meeting he was attending with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gamliel is on maternity leave.

Among recent examples of the issue being discussed, sponsors of outdoor advertising in Jerusalem had chosen to remove images of women from ads rather than incur opposition from certain segments of the ultra-Orthodox community. Some advertising featuring women has since returned to the city's streets.

There were also efforts over the Sukkot holiday in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood to separate men and women in the crush of large numbers of visitors there.

Separate seating on specially-designated ultra-Orthodox bus lines in Jerusalem and elsewhere - purportedly on a voluntary basis - has also been a matter of controversy.

Municipal Chief of Staff Michal Shalem told the panel Tuesday that the city was working with the help of the police to prevent the exclusion of women.

In an incident at an Israel Defense Forces event in October, female soldiers were asked to leave the celebration marking the end of the Simhat Torah holiday.

Out of concern for the religious sensibilities of some objecting soldiers, the women were provided with a separate area for the traditional dancing that marks the end of festival.

One speaker at the meeting Tuesday described an improvised award ceremony at the Health Ministry, organized by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism ) in September, at which the prize recipients, two women, were allegedly relegated to a balcony and were forced to send a man to the stage to receive the award on their behalf.

The Civil Service Commission was called upon Tuesday at the meeting to issue explicit instructions preventing the exclusion of women from government ministries.

The panel also ordered that the licenses issued to burial societies by the Religious Services Ministry specifically require that the organizations bar attempts to keep women at a distance during funerals, and that they bar attempts to keep women from delivering eulogies.

The committee also called on the Transportation Ministry to set up a help line for women who claim they have been discriminated against as bus passengers.

Inter-ministerial panel to form

It was decided Tuesday that an inter-ministerial panel would be set up, headed by Livnat and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, to work on ways to combat the exclusion of women.

Moriah Shaham, a female university student from Beit Shemesh, told the committee that she and her female friends were barred on a daily basis from sitting at the front of the bus on an ultra-Orthodox bus line in the city.

She recounted an incident in which a woman burst into tears as she was directed to the back of the bus.

In another case, Shaham said a female bus passenger had to sit on the floor, at a distance from her husband.

In opening the session, Livnat said that the exclusion of women had no place in the State of Israel and was contrary to both democratic principles and Jewish tradition.

She added, however, that the committee's task would not be easy or quick.

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