Ne'eman: Five Women Turned Down Position on Turkel Commission

Equal Employment Commission: Keep looking for female representative.

Five women were invited to take part in the Turkel committee investigating the May 31 raid on the Gaza flotilla but all five refused, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman told the cabinet on Sunday.

Neeman said the women were retired judges Hadassah Ben-Ito and Judith Tsur; Nili Cohen, a Tel Aviv University law professor; Miriam Rubinstein, a lawyer and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein; and Michla Pomerance-Slonim, a professor emeritus of international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

All five women declined the offer, each for a different reason, the minister said.

Tziona Koenig-Yair, the national commissioner of Israel's Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, said the effort Neeman described were not enough.

"The legislation and the court's interpretation are completely clear," she said. "The authorities should have worked actively to locate a woman. I'm sure there are still women who would agree to join the committee even at this stage."

Koenig-Yair said a female committee member should have found before the panel set up, not in the midst of deliberations. "It's a duty, not a luxury," she said.

Two weeks ago, the High Court of Justice upheld a petition by several organizations and instructed the government to locate a female candidate for the three-member all-male committee by the end of August. However, the court also said the government will have fulfilled its obligation if it offers five women a spot on the committee, even if none accepts the offer.

Hadara Bar-Mor, an expert on labor and corporate law at the Netanya Academic College, said in an interview she sent her resume to the committee chairman right after the High Court handed down its ruling, but has received no reply.

Bar-Mor said she was surprised at Neeman's assertion that all the women approached by the committee have declined.

"I wonder by which criteria the committee chose the women it invited," Bar-Mor said. "I think it's important to appoint a woman to the committee even now. It has national, cultural and international importance."

The organizations that filed the original petition also said they have compiled a list of women candidates for the committee, but did not send it to the state attorneys or to Turkel himself.

Yesterday the High Court released the justices' comments on the case. Justice Uzi Vogelman wrote that the court saw the government as having failed in its duty to assure that women are adequately represented on public commissions. "We were not convinced that adding a new female member or several female members to the committee would impair its function," Vogleman wrote.

Justice Miriam Naor noted that in an ideal world, gender would not be factor in a candidate's suitability for a position. "However, it's not an ideal world we inhabit," she wrote. "Despite the deep marks left by the legislature and the courts, this is not always the case... despite repeated promises, not enough has done to amend the wrong."

The court also ruled that the state must bear the petitioners' legal expenses.