Two Bills to Boost Israel's Jewish Nature Will Harm Women's Rights, Activists Warn

Ten women's rights groups say that the so-called Jewish nation-state bill and Jewish law bill would bolster religious law, a move that could be harmful for women

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A discussion at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, 2014.
A discussion at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Ten women’s rights organizations are urging Knesset members to oppose two legislative proposals scheduled to be debated on Monday over fears that they could weaken the status of women in Israel.

The groups claim that both the so-called Jewish nation-state bill and the Jewish law bill, which would make ancient Jewish legal literature available for jurists making contemporary legal decisions, would bolster religious law in Israel, a move that could be harmful for women.

The ostensible purpose of the bills is to strengthen the state’s Jewish character. But the activists say that religious law discriminates against women, and strengthening it could hurt women’s status.

Several of legislative initiatives being advanced in the Knesset would impair the right to equality by giving religious law unprecedented status, the organizations wrote to Knesset members. They say that the power of rabbinical courts would be significantly expanded and religious law would affect a greater part of the population. The organizations that came out against the bills include the Israel Women’s Network, the Rackman Center, which promotes the status of women in the country, the Women’s International Zionist Organization and the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.

The present version of the Jewish nation-state bill “anchors all the Jewish elements of the nation, but does not assure equal rights for minorities, or women,” they wrote.

They added that allowing Jewish law to be the source that judges consult in the absence of existing legal solutions would impair women’s rights and status in all areas of life and could send Israel back decades in time, wrote the organizations.

Michal Gera Margaliot, CEO of the Women’s Network, told Haaretz that making Jewish law the basis for court rulings is worrying for the rights of all women – secular and observant, and Jewish and non-Jewish. She said that enacting it as a basic law has worrying constitutional significance and contradicts the declaration of Israel’s independence.

“If the Knesset of Israel wants to anchor constitutional principles, it should enact full equality, not discriminatory arrangements,” Gera Margaliot said. “The women of Israel don’t need another burden from religious law and rabbinical courts.”

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