Israel's Treasury Pledges Over $17m to Fight Domestic Violence After Slashing ultra-Orthodox Daycare Subsidy

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Israelis protest violence against women in Tel Aviv, last year.
Israelis protest violence against women in Tel Aviv, last year.Credit: Meged Gozani

The Finance Ministry announced Tuesday that it must immediately transfer 55 million shekels (about $16.75 million) to the government’s plan to reduce domestic violence, following the ministry’s decision last week to cut government daycare subsidies for ultra-Orthodox families in which the father studies Torah full-time.

A state comptroller’s report published this month found that of the 300 million shekels (about $91.4 million) earmarked for the plan to combat domestic violence, for 2017-2020, less than half of that sum – 128 million shekels – has gone to the project. According to a treasury official, the Finance Ministry has instructed to speed up the implementation of the plan; the ministry hopes to devote 50 million shekels to it each year starting in 2022.  

As part of the budget transfer, the treasury will have to build two new shelters for pregnant women and girls in need of protection, as well as four treatment centers for abusive men. It will also create 90 new jobs for social workers in municipal domestic violence treatment centers, and another 54 positions for social workers at police stations, for those who are reporting abuse.

Fifty new jobs will be created within the parole system in order to treat abusive men, and emergency domestic violence helplines will add Arabic- and Amharic-speaking workers. In addition, new projects to combat domestic violence will be developed and a flexible budget will be allotted to treatment for victims within their communities.  

A Finance Ministry source said last week that the state currently spends about 1.2 billion shekels in daycare subsidies for the ultra-Orthodox, but under the new rules announced by Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, about a third of that goes to families that will no longer be eligible for the stipends. The new rules, which are slated to come into effect at the start of the new school year, will require both spouses to work at least 24 hours a week in order to qualify for the payments, which come to around 1,000 shekels ($305) per child under the age of three.

Lieberman said that the ministry has decided to prioritize the issue of domestic violence, “because we see the need for it on the ground. We’re just starting discussions regarding the budget, but we cannot wait when it comes to this subject, and we therefore made a great effort, to the point where a budget for the plan will be transferred to the Welfare Ministry this week.”

Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen added, “Domestic violence is a grave social problem, and treating it requires a combination of every relevant public system. In past years, there have been many more welfare services for women and men who have been harmed by domestic violence. Cooperation between the finance and welfare ministries will allow us to help more people, in the hopes of denouncing this ugly phenomenon.”

The comptroller’s report said that because the plan only received partial funding, the government has not been sufficiently coping with domestic violence cases. The writers noted that the state does not have an updated database of cases of intimate partner violence, which reduces its ability to combat the issue.

Lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman criticized the ministry's decision. "The finance minister's decision to allocate funds to fight domestic violence is right," she said. "However, this decision cannot come on the expanse of disadvantaged groups."

"This type of decision will eventually turn up against women," she added.   

The comptroller found that as of October 2020 – the height of the second coronavirus lockdown – the Welfare Ministry did not have data regarding the waiting period for a bed in women’s shelters. According to the report, 50 percent of the women who were murdered between 2004 and 2019 were known to the welfare authorities before they were killed. In 2019, 23,000 cases of intimate partner violence against women were filed with the police.

It also said that there are few treatment programs for abusive men, and the ones that do exist do not operate continuously; not enough work has been done to bring men who have committed domestic violence in for treatment. In 2019, just 4,000 of the 20,000 men who had domestic violence cases against them received treatment from the Welfare Ministry, the parole system or the prison system.

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