Israeli Minister Raises New Objections to Joining Gender Violence Treaty Amid Conservative Campaign

Israel is still expected to join the Istanbul Convention, officials say, but Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked forces new government debate on provisions concerning immigration policy

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Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, last week.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, last week.Credit: Jonathan Zindel/Flash90

Amid a campaign by conservative groups, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked demands additional debate by the cabinet before the Israeli government makes a decision on joining the Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence.

In a letter Shaked sent on Tuesday to Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, she expressed more concerns regarding some of the provisions in the treaty, specifically concerning immigration policy.

Sa'ar plans to seek cabinet approval by the end of the month to have Israel join the convention. Shaked's letter means ministers will have to debate her concerns before doing so. Some of the issues Shaked mentioned relate to provisions that Israel had already said it would express reservations about or seek clarifications over before joining the convention.

Shaked's office said in a statement that the new comments are the result of "further deliberations at the Interior Ministry."

The reservations pertain to granting resident status to victims of violence who lack resident status and another requiring Israel to provide compensation to victims of violence in situations in which neither the perpetrator nor insurance provide compensation.

A demonstration against Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, Istanbul, last year.Credit: Emrah Gurel / AP

The additional reservations and clarifications Israel will seek relate to the subjects of government termination of violent marriages, asylum in gender-related cases, and the potential application of the convention only in areas under Israeli sovereignty – which would exclude the West Bank.

The right-wing groups that have campaigned against Israel’s joining the convention include the Kohelet Forum and the Israeli Immigration Policy Center.

The policy center, which describes itself in part as “an advisory center for residents of those neighborhoods who have been negatively affected by illegal migration into Israel, with particular emphasis on south Tel Aviv,” has alleged that the convention’s provisions would indirectly change the country’s immigration policy.

The clarification that Israel is issuing stating that it is not making commitments beyond what a 1951 international refugee convention requires is without legal significance, the center said.

The Kohelet Forum has said that the conservative groups opposing Israel’s membership in the Istanbul Convention also object to provisions relating to gender equality, which it said grant Israel’s High Court of Justice major authority to decide a range of issues. It cited a legal opinion on the issue by Prof. Eugene Kontorovich of George Mason University in Virginia.

For her part, however, Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, who in recent years has been advocating for Israel’s membership in the Istanbul Convention, told Haaretz that membership in the convention would enable Israel to create “a precise roadmap to deal with violence against women.”

The concerns that have been expressed about Israel joining the convention even after expressing its reservations and clarifications are baseless, she claimed.  

Activists and lawmakers at a Knesset meeting on opposition to joining the Istanbul Convention, in Jerusalem on Wednesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

On Wednesday, Knesset members Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism party convened a gathering regarding the Istanbul Convention, which the conference title referred to as the “curse from Istanbul.”

“All of us want to curb men’s violence against women, women’s violence against men, against children,” said one of the speakers at the conference, Kobi Yakir, who heads the Torat Hamedina religious studies center. He expressed the concern, however, that Israel’s membership in the convention would eliminate what he called “the traditional roles of men and women.”

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