Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday announced he would chair a new ministerial committee dedicated to combating domestic violence and called for “much more” to be done to counter the phenomenon in Israel.
Speaking to his cabinet on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women after visiting a women’s shelter, Netanyahu said the uptick in violence against women in Israel in recent years was “a criminal phenomenon” and called for stricter enforcement.
“We are against violence in general, but in this category, there are special considerations,” he said. “These are of course that we need to be taking care of women, children and entire families. And we need to be doing much more.”
Netanyahu said that he and his wife, Sara, were “unsettled” by their visit earlier in the day to a women’s shelter in Jerusalem and told ministers he surprised to learn that “almost nothing” was done to domestic abusers.
“I discovered that we are doing almost doing nothing to those perpetrating this crime,” he told ministers. “It’s as if we are dealing with terrorism, and it is terrorism in every sense, but we are not dealing with the terrorists themselves.”
Three ministerial task forces on the issue have been created since 2014, with few results, and no government funding apparently allocated for the proposed programs.
The new committee will be headed by Netanyahu and will include Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel.
Shortly after the announcement, critics pointed out that ministerial committees on domestic violence had already been established and its recommendations adopted by ministers, but the program it suggested never received government funding.
According to the Haaretz daily, the most recent task force proposal was met with a pledged NIS 250 million ($67 million) over a period of five years when it was approved last July. The committee’s plan sought NIS 47 million ($12.5 million) in 2018 to increase the number of social workers and police officers working on domestic violence cases.
Last week, researchers at the Knesset Research and Information Center told the daily the program had yet to receive a budget, and that no funding data was available for 2018 or 2017.
Netanyahu’s announcement also drew criticism from Joint (Arab) List MK Aida Touma-Sliman, who heads the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, who accused him of ignoring the growing phenomenon for years. She pointed out that the government recently voted against a proposal to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry on violence against women.
“If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny: Netanyahu, who voted last week against the establishment of a commission of inquiry on the issue, has appointed himself chairman of a ministerial committee on the issue,” Touma-Sliman wrote.
“He said the visit to the women’s shelter ‘moved him,’ but he forgot that we women have a very good memory,” she tweeted. “What’s missing is NIS 50 million to fund the program!”
According to the Women’s International Zionist Organization, 21 women in Israel have been murdered by their partners or relatives so far in 2018, a 30% increase from last year. About half of victims in the last two years had filed complaints about the violence with police.
WIZO data shows that more than 13,000 women have been treated for physical abuse from their partners this year, with an average of 50 domestic violence cases opened each day.
In Israel’s Arab community, however, the number is much higher. According to activists, more than half of the 192 Israeli women murdered in domestic violence-related killings over the past decade were Arab women, despite the fact that Arabs make up less than 20% of the overall population. Last year alone, 16 Israeli Arab women were murdered.
Activists say that 200,000 women and 500,000 children in Israel are regularly exposed to violence at home.
In Israel, 84 percent of sexual offense and harassment cases are closed; charges are filed in only 16 percent of them, according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.