Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday gave a classic example of why politicians should stick to the script.
During an impassioned plea to halt violence against women, the prime minister got himself into a muddle and ended up saying that “women are animals… with rights.”
Netanyahu, normally a consummate orator, was speaking at a conference at the Knesset on stopping violence against women. Trouble appears to have started when the prime minister said, “Women don’t belong to you, women are not an animal you can hit.”
Presumably realizing this would not go over well, particularly with his wife, Sara, who was sitting onstage with him, he added: “And today we say you don’t hit animals either.”
Perhaps he should have stopped there, but after a long pause as he searched for the right words, he pushed on.
“We understand (animals) have insight and there is intelligence and there is cognition and animals have feelings,” he said.
“We are rightfully compassionate toward animals, we really connect to this,” he said, again gesturing toward his wife.
The Netanyahu family famously adopted a rescue dog, Kaia, who made headlines for biting several people, including the prime minister.
“So, if we are compassionate toward animals — women are animals. Children are animals. Animals with rights, and this matter needs to pass from the world and I hope we don’t see these shocking things,” he finally concluded.
עכשיו עם הקובץ pic.twitter.com/y3mEGtLJNt
— Matan Amir (@matan_amirr) November 23, 2020
The Prime Minister’s Office later released a statement in response to reports of the incident, which it said were distorted.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke from the bottom of his heart today about women’s rights and against any violation of them, only gave an example of abuse in a small part of his speech when he also spoke about harm to animals, but in no way intended to compare them,” the statement said.
The Knesset meeting was held ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and at a time when Israel has seen a spate of cases of women being murdered by their partners.
There have been 19 such killings so far this year, up from 13 in 2019, according to the Ynet news site. In 2018, 25 women were murdered by someone known to them, the highest number in years.
Violence against women in Israel has driven recent protests calling for reform.
Demonstrators have highlighted the fact that a national plan to fight domestic violence was approved in 2017 by the Knesset but has since been abandoned, waiting for funding. Activists say most of the approved NIS 250 million ($71 million) has not yet been transferred to relevant authorities.
Police and social services organizations have also reported a major rise in domestic violence complaints since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.