Israel Can't Join Gender Violence Treaty During Election Period, Attorney General Says

Justice Minister Sa'ar, who was leading the move to join the Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence, told there's 'no urgency'

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'Protect me' – demonstration against sexual violence in Jerusalem, 2022.
'Protect me' – demonstration against sexual violence in Jerusalem, 2022.Credit: Emil Salman

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara ruled that the cabinet may not decide on Israel joining the Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence at this time because the country will be entering an election campaign period with a caretaker government.

The Council of Europe approved Israel joining the convention in April, but the cabinet must still give its approval – but a legal opinion written by Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon does not allow completing the process until after the next election and the formation of a new government.

“A government that acts during an election period is obligated to restraint and moderation in making use of its authority, in which every case must be examined on its own merits,” wrote Limon in a document he sent to recently to Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

“It seems there is no urgency in advancing the joining of the convention specifically at the present time, especially in light of the fact that the invitation for joining it is in force for five years,” and as a result, the incoming government will be required to deal with the question of joining the convention, wrote Limon. Even though it is possible to leave the convention, this is an exceptional step – so joining has a certain amount of “constraining the judgment of future governments,” he added.

Limon did note a number of considerations that support completing the process of accession to the convention during an election campaign, including the fact that the work on the request for accession began back in 2016 and was delayed because of the multiple Knesset elections and a lack of an approved state budget for the years of 2019 to 2021 – but in the end, Limon decided that the step is not feasible at this time.

In the legal opinion, Limon also noted the campaign by conservative right-wing organizations against joining the convention, and said that as of the time he was writing this letter, “This discussion has not been completed. Therefore, it seems there is no clear public consensus concerning the question of joining the convention at this time.”

A protest marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Tel Aviv, 2021.Credit: Hadas Parush

In conclusion, Limon wrote that joining the convention now could possibly constrain the next government while the issue is still a matter of public dispute, while at the same time no reasons for urgency or critical and unique considerations were presented that specifically require joining the convention at this time.

Limon wrote that if he is presented with new information showing why the step is urgent, his office would reconsider the matter. “None of what was said reduces the importance of the issue of preventing violence against women and domestic violence, and the fight against such occurrences.”

The Istanbul Convention, officially known as the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, is considered to be the most advanced of all international conventions on the fight against gender-based violence and offers a roadmap of how to do so.

Israel was expected to join the convention, while at the same time providing a disclaimer about two of its sections: one requiring nations to grant residency status to women without such status who suffer from violence, and another that requires the state to compensate victims of violence in cases in which the offender or insurance does not cover the damages involved.

Right-wing groups have expressed opposition to joining the Istanbul convention, arguing that Israel’s reservations on matters concerning immigration and gender equality are inadequate. In April, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked sent Sa’ar a letter in which she listed in detail a large number of reservations about the convention.

A month later, Haaretz learned that Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton also requested clarifications about a section of the convention that affected her own Education ministry. In light of the pressure applied by the right, Sa’ar postponed the cabinet vote on the matter – and he was scheduled to hold a meeting on the issue this week in the Justice Ministry, but now the deputy attorney general’s legal opinion has frozen the process.

On Saturday, dozens of women from the coalition of organizations fighting gender-based violence demonstrated across from Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s home. The protesters called for the government to carry out urgent actions against the murder of women, including signing the Istanbul Convention.

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