Ben Gvir slashes budget for programs to protect women at risk of domestic abuse

Police minister accuses Michal Sela Forum of abusing funds in latest tiff between far-right cabinet member and the domestic abuse victims’ advocacy group, which denies allegation

Illustrative: Victim of domestic violence and abuse. (snob/
Illustrative: Victim of domestic violence and abuse. (snob/

National Security Ministry Itamar Ben Gvir has ceased funding the Michal Sela Forum’s security programs for women at risk of domestic abuse, investigative journalism collective Shomrim reported Monday.

The far-right minister confirmed the report in an interview to the 103FM radio station Tuesday, accusing the organization’s staff of lining its pockets with funds meant for abused women, a claim the Forum denied.

The Michal Sela Forum, named for a woman who was murdered by her partner in 2019, operates two personal security programs for women at risk of domestic abuse: Sayeret Michal — a play on the name of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit — which provides threatened women a panic button with which to summon a watchperson at a moment’s notice, and another program whereby women are given a specially trained guard dog.

According to the Forum, the programs serve over 270 women and their roughly 900 children, giving them a rare alternative to living in a shelter, the only recourse offered by the government to victims of domestic abuse.

Shomrim noted that the amount of money provided by the ministry to the organization is relatively negligible — somewhere between NIS 500,000-1,000,000 (approximately $138,000-276,000) per year so far, compared to the ministry’s budget of about NIS 23 billion.

Business daily Calcalist reported Monday that the Forum has yet to receive formal notice of the National Security Ministry’s decision.

Lili Ben-Ami, whose sister Michal Sela was murdered by her husband in 2019, is seen after a court hearing at the Jerusalem District Court on December 26, 2021. (Flash 90)

“I am amazed to find out through the media that there is no intention to renew the agreement, especially during days of war when the demand for protection for women who are at risk of murder has increased by 20 percent,” said Lili Ben Ami, the Forum’s executive director and the sister of its namesake.

Ben Ami told Calcalist that the Forum’s security programs had been funded by the ministry to the tune of NIS 1 million between August 2022 and August 2023, and that since then the programs have been funded entirely through private contributions.

The National Security Ministry said in a statement to Shomrim that the program had become too expensive.

“The National Security Ministry’s engagement with the Michal Sela Forum, as part of joint ventures, has led to the promotion of two important projects in the protection of women,” the ministry said. “The arrangement, which was defined as a pilot, has long since ended and it was decided not to extend it due to a high cost proposal that was forwarded to the ministry by the association, with ancillary costs that were not there in the past. The ministry therefore intends to examine other alternatives to promote important projects.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir holds a meeting with police officers from the Yasam unit, in Tel Aviv, August 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

When asked about the Michal Sela Forum in an interview to the 103FM radio station Tuesday morning, Ben Gvir, whose ministry is in charge of the police, confirmed that he had decided to discontinue the Forum’s funding, though he claimed that he had originally doubled it.

“It became clear to me that they want the money, not for the women, but to line their own pockets,” he claimed, without offering evidence. “With all due respect, I don’t need to fund an organization’s staff.”

The Michal Sela Forum slammed the minister’s “empty claims,” saying it “had cooperated fruitfully with the Public Security Ministry’s professional staff for a year,” referring to the ministry by the name it had under Ben Gvir’s predecessor, Omer Barlev, with whom the organization had cooperated on legislation meant to tackle domestic abuse.

“All those concerned, including the governmental authorities involved directly with the security programs, and the threatened women whom it serves, have expressed satisfaction and great interest in continuing the programs’ lifesaving operation,” the statement continued, noting that the organization was awarded a Midot Seal of Effectiveness after an external audit.

Michal Sela, found stabbed to death at her home outside Jerusalem on October 3, 2019. (Facebook)

The Forum has found itself at odds with Ben Gvir on several occasions. In March, the minister announced that he would delay legislation enabling electronic tracking of domestic abuse offenders, which the Forum had advanced in cooperation with the previous government. The bill was finally passed in July, with some of Ben Gvir’s modifications, which he claimed would make for a more “balanced” law that would not expose men to false allegations of abuse.

The organization has also criticized the minister’s relaxation of gun laws in recent months following Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught and the start of the war.

Twenty-two women were murdered in Israel in 2023, 19 of whom knew their killer, according to the Israel Observatory on Femicide, a Hebrew University monitor group.

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