For the first time in Israeli history, a woman has been appointed to serve as a judge, or a qadi, in a Muslim religious court.
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Hana Mansour-Khatib, a family lawyer from the northern town of Tamra, had her appointment confirmed on Tuesday by the Judicial Appointments Committee, which oversees appointments judges to all Israeli courts. All nine members of the committee, including several from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, voted in favor of her appointment.
Her appointment is a precedent for Israel. Jewish women are prohibited from serving as judges on religious courts. Issues of marriage and divorce in Israel fall under the mandate of religious courts.
“History has been made,” said Issawi Frej, an Israeli Arab politician who represents the left-wing Meretz party in the Knesset and has been leading a campaign for the past two-and-half years to get Muslim women appointed as judges in the Sharia courts. “This is one of the moments when all the work you do in parliament pays off.”
Frej had submitted a bill to the Knesset two-and-a-half years ago that would have mandated the appointment of women to Muslim religious courts. The bill was ultimately defeated in the Ministerial Legislative Committee because of opposition from two ultra-Orthodox members: Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay. “They were afraid it would set a precedent in the Jewish religious courts,” explained Frej.
After that, he said, he obtained a promise from Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that she would help him circumvent the Knesset. Shaked, who heads the Judicial Committee, fulfilled that promise on Tuesday.
Aida Touma Suleiman, a Knesset Member from the Joint Arab List, said the decision provided her with a sense of “closure.”
“For 20 years, women’s organizations have been fighting for this,” she said. “This is a statement that Arab women are capable of filling all function and that it’s time to lift the barriers they face.”
“This is a positive development that shows things can change in the religious courts,” said Seth Farber, the executive director of Itim, an organization that advocates on behalf of Jews challenged by Israel’s Orthodox establishment. Itim has been spearheading a campaign to get Jewish religious courts in Israel to appoint women as legal advisers.
It has yet to be determined to which of the nine Sharia courts in Israel Mansour-Khatib will be appointed.