In Israel, National Insurance (Bituach Leumi) is mandatory for all its citizens, providing them with payments in old age, for childbirth, work injuries, general disability, long-term care, unemployment and the other ups and downs of life.
Women who stay at home rather than taking a job are exempt from making National Insurance payments, but men are not officially recognized as homemakers under the National Insurance Law. Over the years, the issue has been brought to the National Insurance Institute, the court system and the Knesset, but until now the unequal status of men and women as homemakers in the eyes of the NII has not been rectified.
This question reared its head again last week when a stay-at-home husband contacted the NII and asked if he was entitled to claim an exemption from payments of roughly NIS 160 a month. He was told that under the law, non-working women with spouses who are making payments may claim an exemption for themselves. However, men can't, whether or not their spouses make NII payments.
The NII explained in its response that the original law was passed decades ago, based on an understanding of family roles that is no longer relevant, but that the law had yet to be amended. In 2010, an appeal was filed to the Supreme Court after the National Labor Court ruled in a case that a male homemaker is not entitled to an exemption. The court supported the appellants and called on the Knesset to amend the National Insurance Law.
"It appears that the legislation must consider between recognizing the housewife as insured in her own right and striving to make equal the rights and obligations of the housewife and a man who does not work and is not independent," then Justice Eliezer Rivlin wrote in his ruling.
The NII responded by asserting that the law distinguishes between men and women in way that is advantageous to women. The only feasible solution for promoting equality, it said, was to require housewives to start making payments, too. This last proposal was actually advanced in discussions over the Economic Arrangements Bill for the last budget; however, it was withdrawn in the face of a public outcry.
Archaic, irrelevant law
Ilana Shreibman, the NII's deputy director for benefits, says that in the wake of the court decision she led a committee at the NII that reexamined the law. Nevertheless, a proposed amendment to the law discussed by the committee was not approved by the Justice Ministry and no other solution has been offered.
Changing the law is complicated by the fact that exempting men from NII payments would saddle the NII with actuarial deficits, i.e, it would be taking in less income that it is projected to have to pay out. In addition, the egalitarian alternative of requiring housewives to make payments would be a complex, resource-intensive process considering there are 400,000 such women in Israel.
"The law is indeed archaic and irrelevant for these times," says Shreibman. "It's also important to point out that the fact that male homemakers who make NII payments accumulate greater benefits for their old age."
According to NII guidelines, a housewife or anyone who has only worked 12 years receives the minimum old-age benefit of NIS 1,502 per month. By contrast, a man who makes regular NII payments even if he was not employed eventually receives an old-age benefit of NIS 2,253 per month.
"In many ways, in Israel men are discriminated against compared to women," says Yaakov Schlusser, chairman of the Man's Rights in the Family Party. "When it comes to the age of retirement, for example, women can retire at age 62, but I can't. So too when it comes to homemakers - is there any lack of men raising the kids while the wife is out working?"
Schlusser thinks that laws in Israel discriminate again men because male Knesset members like to focus on security issues and foreign affairs, while female lawmakers focus on women's issues. Issues like inequality in NII payments are the result, he says. "Equal rights cannot come without equal obligations."