Israel to Join Major Treaty on Violence Against Women, but With Caveats for Foreign Women

Israel plans to sign the Istanbul Convention, a major step in fighting violence against women. But the interior minister, who does not want to turn gender-based violence into justification for residency, has her own terms

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A demonstration against violence against women, last year.
A demonstration against violence against women, last year.Credit: Meged Gozani
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Israel will ask to join a major international treaty on combating violence against women, but plans to reject the section requiring countries to grant residency status to those who lose legal status after becoming victims of violence.

The Istanbul Convention, officially known as the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, is considered to be the most advanced of all international treaties on the fight against gender-based violence.

The Interior Ministry has reservations about the section of the convention concerning non-citizens whose residency status is granted through domestic partnerships – for example, through a relationship to a citizen or permanent resident. The convention grants these individuals legal residency if their relationship ends because of domestic violence.

In addition to this disclaimer, Israel will provide three clarifications about how it will implement certain sections of the convention, concerning the annulment of forced marriages, accepting asylum requests based on gender, and not returning women to their country of origin if they are at risk there (non-refoulement). The government argues that the Population and Immigration Authority’s existing regulations already provide an appropriate response to these issues.

The Istanbul Convention allows nations that have ratified it to not accept certain specific sections, including ones concerning the residency status of victims of violence who are not legal residents.

Israel would join Switzerland, Cyprus, Monaco, Slovenia and other countries in rejecting this section. Germany also filed reservations over two subsections concerning granting to residency to the victims of violence, saying that its own laws already provide an adequate response on the matter.

The justice, foreign and social services ministers announced Israel’s intention to join the convention on Tuesday at a meeting of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. Countries that accede to the convention are required to legislate strict laws on the prevention of domestic violence, protection of victims, prosecution and policy coordination. The convention has been signed by 45 countries and the European Union, though some of them have yet to officially ratify it. The convention was officially opened for signing in 2011.

Israel only has observer status in the Council of Europe, so it must request permission to join the convention. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to present the request in January at a ministerial meeting of the Council, and if Israel does join, it will be the first country outside of Europe to do so.

Israel's announcement that it will join the Istanbul Convention comes after the last five Israeli governments failed to do so. This lag is due to Israel's governmental and political instability preceding the current coalition, according to a senior official who is knowledgeable about the staff work involved in submitting the request to join.

Israel does not currently meet all the requirements of the Istanbul Convention, but most of these differences are supposed to be settled with the full implementation of the inter-ministerial plan for battling violence against women, along with other legislative changes.

The government recently began to advance new laws to prevent domestic violence, including electronic monitoring of men who have protective orders issued against them, and amending the law to prevent economic violence against women. The first bill passed in its preliminary reading in the Knesset, and the second – which passed its first reading during the previous Knesset, before it was abandoned – is expected to advance in this Knesset.

Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked wants to continue to preserve Israel’s conservative immigration policies, and not to turn gender-based violence into justification for asylum. According to the Interior Ministry, rules already exist today on gender-based issues in asylum procedures, and women without legal residency status who suffer from gender-based violence are referred to the humanitarian committees for an examination of the matter.

According to data from the Social Services Ministry, 12 percent of the women who lived in shelters due to domestic violence lack legal residency: 87 out of 723 women. Of these, 44 had foreign passports, 13 arrived with documents from the Palestinian Authority – and the rest lacked documentation.

Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, the director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the law school at Bar-Ilan University, told Haaretz that the signing of the convention would be a dramatic step in the way Israel handles the issue of violence against women. But “the fact that reservations or interpretive declarations on Israel’s part concerning certain sections would be added, is part of the process of reducing the differences between international standard and the social-legal situation in Israel, and marks a goal for Israel that should strive for in the future,” she added.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked believes that based on years of legislation and court rulings, going back to the earliest days of the State of Israel, issues concerning entry to Israel and receiving residency are at the core of the sovereign authority of the Knesset and the government, her office said.

“This authority cannot be subordinated to an international forum. The regulations of the Population and Immigration Authority today already provide an appropriate and complete humanitarian response to all the relevant issues… there is no need and no justification to limit the discretion of the interior minister to the wording of the convention," Shaked's office said.

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