Lapid says women’s rights minister politicizing office and its powers with new bill

Coalition advances legislation to place office tasked with advancing women under greater political control

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Wednesday accused the government minister tasked with boosting the advancement of women, May Golan, of harming women’s rights by supporting a contentious bill that aims to reorganize the official national authority for advancing gender equality.

Proposed by far-right Otzma Yehudit party MK Limor Son Har-Melech, the legislation would replace the Authority for the Advancement of Women with a new authority directly under the minister. Critics say the bill will deprive the authority of its professional independence and instead subject it to the whims of politicians.

Addressing the Knesset plenum ahead of a reading of the bill, Lapid said Golan had “no boundaries.”

“Every 10 days a woman is murdered in Israel on your watch and this is what you come up with?” Lapid said. “Have you no shame?”

Since the start of the year, at least 17 women have been murdered in Israel, according to the Israel Women’s Network, amounting to a killing every 11 days. According to the Israel Observatory on Femicide, in 2022, 24 women were “murdered because they were women,” a 50 percent rise over the 16 such murders recorded in 2021.

Lapid said the coalition had removed a clause from the bill aimed at preventing discrimination against women. He accused Golan of attempting to use the authority for her own political ends to curry favor with Likud voters by making her own appointments to the government body.

Likud MK May Golan visits at then-MK Itamar Ben Gvir’s makeshift Office in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 14, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

“You’re all not ashamed? We need an independent authority,” Lapid said. “This bill does what this government has been doing since day 1 — taking the rights of women and suppressing them, and dismantling state protections.”

Golan, a firebrand lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, stood up from the plenum and fired back at Lapid, calling him an “insolent liar.”

“Tell us, did you meet once with the chair of the authority for the advancement of women during your ‘change’ government?” Golan said, accusing Lapid of supporting Arab community initiatives while he was prime minister at the expense of women.

After the back-and-forth, the bill ended up passing its first of three required readings to become law.

Golan has previously been criticized for prioritizing party loyalty over supporting legislation that advances women’s rights.

In March, she voted against a bill that would have mandated an electronic monitoring system to track domestic abusers. Experts and proponents of the legislation say the tracking would save lives.

After blocking the legislation, Ben Gvir said the electronic tagging bill needed to go further in balancing men’s rights against the needs of women in potential danger.

Last month he presented an amended bill that would require more preconditions for authorizing electronic tagging, which was approved by the cabinet and i still in the legislative process.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In July 2021, Golan opposed a bill that would have permitted the storage of forensic samples taken from victims of sexual crimes for an unrestricted time. That bill was designed to help victims in producing evidence that could be used in trials.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill on the Authority for the Advancement of Women on Sunday.

Opposition lawmakers and the country’s largest women’s rights lobby group panned the bill and lamented that it would end 25 years of independent operation by the current authority and instead create one that is beholden to the ruling coalition.

Under the terms of the bill, a new body with a similar title — the Authority for the Advancement of Women in Israel — will be established. Its budget and policies will be controlled by the minister and political leaders, who will be able to appoint — or fire — its director, the Walla news site reported.

The bill also calls for setting up an advisory committee for the new authority that will be staffed by appointees of government ministers. The chair of the committee will be selected by the minister for the advancement of women, and not by the head of the authority itself, according to the report.

The Israel Women’s Network rights group assailed the bill, saying in a statement: “It is unthinkable that the statutory tools that have been operating for many years to reduce gender gaps, and that are based upon the recommendation of the International Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, will be absolutely subordinated to the policy of the political echelon — without giving authority and real influence to the positions of women and professionals.”

It said the law “will seriously harm the advancement of women’s status in Israel.”

The currently existing authority was established by law as a professional body in 1998. Three months ago, it was transferred from the Social Equality Ministry to Golan’s newly established ministry.

Golan quickly pushed out the head of the Authority for the Advancement of Women, Ayelet Razin Bet Or, drawing criticism from women’s rights activists.

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