Under Conservative Pressure, Israel Delays Vote on Joining Gender Violence Treaty

Amid pressure from right-wing groups, and objections by two ministers, Israel's Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar delays vote on joining the Istanbul Convention, a major treaty combatting gender-based violence

Women from Israel's ultra-Orthodox community protest sexual violence while holding signs reading 'Help,' and 'Look after us,' in Jerusalem, in March.
Women from Israel's ultra-Orthodox community protest sexual violence while holding signs reading 'Help,' and 'Look after us,' in Jerusalem, in March.Credit: Emil Salman

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar has delayed a cabinet vote on Israel's signing of an international convention tasked with combatting violence against women, in light of pressure from right-wing organizations and the reservations of some ministers.

The vote on the International Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, popularly known as the Istanbul Convention, was set to take place by the end of this month. The convention is widely regarded as a major step forward in protecting women. In Israel, however, right-wing groups have opposed it due to concerns over clauses dealing with immigration and gender equality.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'arCredit: Emil Salman

In a letter to Sa'ar last month, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked listed a large number of concerns about the accord. Additionally, Haaretz learned on Thursday that Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has demanded clarification regarding the section of the accord that deals with education.

That clause states, among other things, “that parties shall take, where appropriate, the necessary steps to include teaching material on issues such as equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence against women and the right to personal integrity, adapted to the evolving capacity of learners, in formal curricula and at all levels of education.”

Interior Minister Ayelet ShakedCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Last week, Sa’ar wrote the chairwoman of the Israel Women’s Network, saying that two ministers had expressed reservations regarding the accord and that he was discussing the matter with them. Subsequently a series of professionals have asked to meet with Shasha-Biton regarding the convention: Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, the head of Bar-Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women; Gali Etzion, an attorney who heads Na’amat’s legislative unit; and Lili Ben-Ami, the head of the Michal Sela Forum.

“As the minister who heads the Israeli education system, which even today works to promote gender equality in educational institutions, you have an important role to play in completing the accession process. This will make it clear that the State of Israel has zero tolerance for violence against women and domestic violence,” the three said in a letter. Shasha-Biton has yet to respond.

Last November, Haaretz reported that Israel was expected to join the convention, but with reservations in regard to the requirement that it grant residency to stateless persons suffering from violence and provide compensation to victims of violence in cases where the perpetrator or commercial insurance refuses, or is unable to cover the cost.

In addition, Israel said it would make three clarifications about the implementation of certain sections of the convention – those concerning the annulment of forced marriages, accepting asylum requests based on gender and a ban against returning women to their country of origin if they are at risk there.

At the end of last October, Sa’ar launched the ascension process, which the Council of Europe has recently approved. Immediately after Israel won approval, Saar said, “I will work to complete Israel’s ascension to the Istanbul Convention by the end of May, understanding how important it is for combatting violence against women and violence in the family. We will complete the process, placing Israel in the forefront of the global fight.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-BitonCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

On Wednesday, the Zulat organization for human rights and equality wrote the justice minister a letter of support, calling on him to sign the convention. In it, the organization asserted that there was no reason to fear that the treaty would force Israel to grant refugee status to anyone who arrives in the country. It also said that Israel needn't worry that the convention would grant the Council of Europe any supervisory role over Israeli policy or harm Israeli sovereignty.

In response, Sa’ar’s office said: “Over the last month – since the convention was given to the cabinet for consideration – the justice minister has received appeals from several organizations expressing opposition to Israel’s accession to the treaty. In addition, the justice minister has been approached –after the convention was given to the cabinet – by two ministers (the interior and education ministers) in regard to sections of convention that are relevant, among other things, to their portfolios."

“Two (separate) meetings have already been held with ministry officials and with organizations on the matter,” the statement said, “in which they explained their rationale for their opposition to ascension. An additional meeting – with the education minister and ministry officials – is scheduled to take place soon. Afterwards, an exhaustive discussion will be conducted in regard to all objections and reservations, following which decisions will be made. In view of that, additional time will be required.”

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