Despite Qualms, Israel Accepted Into International Gender Violence Treaty

The European Council accepted Israel's request to accede to the Istanbul Convention, even though it takes issue with clauses about compensating victims of gender-based violence and providing legal status to non-citizens

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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A demonstration against gender-based violence in Bat Yam, Israel, in 2020.
A demonstration against gender-based violence in Bat Yam, Israel, in 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

The European Council has approved Israel’s application to join a significant international treaty aimed at curbing violence against women.

Israel asked to join the Istanbul Convention late last year, while specifying – like some other states – its reservations to certain articles in the treaty.

These include the obligation to grant residency status to women who lose legal status after becoming victims of violence and to provide compensation to victims who have suffered serious bodily harm or impairment of health, if the damage is not covered by the perpetrator, insurance or state-funded health and social provisions.

Israel has also said it will provide a number of interpretive statements regarding personal status law in Israel, granting asylum on the basis of gender and applying the convention only to an area in which there is Israeli sovereignty.

The final accession to the convention depends on the approval of the Knesset and the cabinet. Officials in the Justice Ministry, which is behind the measure, have said they hope the coalition crisis will not prevent Israel’s joining the treaty.

Israel’s reservations to aspects the convention stem from particularities of its legal system in regard to issues like divorce, state compensation for victims of crime, and immigration. For example, Israel does not intend to adopt Article 59.1, according to which victims of domestic violence whose residence status depends on that of the spouse or partner may be able to receive, in the event of the dissolution of the marriage or the relationship, “an autonomous residence permit irrespective of the duration of the marriage or the relationship.” Article 59 also calls for the suspension of expulsion proceedings against victims in such cases.

Israeli officials say that current Israeli law and the Interior Ministry’s so-called humanitarian committees provide adequate protection to victims. The Istanbul Convention permits signatories to make reservations in regard to several of its articles, including Article 59.

Additionally, Israel plans to submit reservations regarding Article 60, requiring member states to recognize gender-based violence against women as a form of persecution in accordance with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and to develop gender-sensitive reception procedures and support services for asylum-seekers. Israel has said it will comply with the refugee convention, but hasn't provided further details.

Article 77 permits states to apply the convention to adjacent territories for which they are responsible. Israel will specify that the convention will apply only to the area subject to the jurisdiction of the State of Israel.

The aim of the Istanbul Convention, officially known as the Council of Europe Convention, is to prevent gender-based violence in general and violence against teens and women within the family in particular; to protect the victims of such violence and to punish its perpetrators appropriately. The treaty went into force August 1, 2014, and has been ratified by 35 states.

In November, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced Israel’s intention to join, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid submitted a formal application a month later.

Accession to the convention involves the passage of strict laws on topics including the prevention of domestic violence, protection of victims, prosecution and policy coordination. The legislative process in Israel began some years ago and includes laws mandating electronic monitoring for violent men and the removal of child custody. In addition, a scheme to provide health insurance to foreign nationals who cannot be expelled has been in the works for months.

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