Thousands strike to protest inaction over violence against women

Over 300 institutions, municipalities, schools, and groups join nationwide labor action Tuesday after 24 women murdered since the start of the year

Woman holding a sign declaring that she is striking at a protest in Tel Aviv, December 2, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Woman holding a sign declaring that she is striking at a protest in Tel Aviv, December 2, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Thousands of women went on strike Tuesday to protest what they say is authorities’ failure to stem a sharp increase in violence against women in Israel, with marches and other demonstrations planned for the day.

Tens of thousands of women were expected to skip work and join nationwide demonstrations to draw attention to domestic violence, after the suspected murders of two teen girls brought the number of women killed in past year to 24.

Hundreds of institutions, municipalities, schools, and organizations have said they will allow their employees to strike, and the government’s civil service commissioner has also made concessions to allow participation in the labor action.

Demonstrators gathered at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli interchange at 9:30 a.m. where they blocked the traffic, and are expected to meet at the intersection of Rokach Boulevard and the Namir highway in the north of the city at 12 p.m. Police have warned drivers to expect delays in those areas.

At 10 a.m., a 24-minute period of silence was observed in memory of the 24 women killed by a partner, family member or someone they knew in the last year.

Throughout the day, music and art exhibits will be displayed along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, and a march in solidarity with the asylum-seeker community will depart Levinsky Park for Rabin Square in the afternoon.

On Tuesday morning, over 200 pairs of women’s shoes, painted red, were laid out to protest the violence in an installation at Tel Aviv’s central Habima Square.

Red-painted shoes on the floor of Habima Square as part of a protest against violence against women, in Tel Aviv, on December 4, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The day’s events will culminate in a main demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square at 7:30 p.m. that is expected to draw thousands.

On Monday, the opposition’s Zionist Union brought a no-confidence motion condemning the government failure to curb the violence. Coalition members boycotted the discussion and vote. A no-confidence motion needs at least 61 votes in the 120-member Knesset to pass.

During the discussion, a number of activists in the stands overlooking the plenum pulled out signs and loudly protested the government inaction. Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein ordered the women removed from the plenum.

According to organizers, over 300 institutions have expressed support for the strike, including 47 local municipalities, 11 labor unions and around 100 corporations and private businesses.

In recent days, the Knesset, the Histadrut national labor union, the national student union, the Jewish National Fund and the National Insurance Institute have joined hundreds of others backing the strike, whicht was called last week following the murders of two teen girls.

“We are striking because decision-makers must realize that actions are required, not empty words,” the organizers said in a statement on Monday that called on Israelis to take to the streets the next day “to stand up to negligent indifferent and demand solutions.”

“We demand the transfer of the NIS 250 million budget promised a year and a half ago for the emergency plan to prevent violence against women,” organizers said, and called for additional educational and rehabilitation programs to combat domestic violence.

Israelis protesting violence against women outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 27, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Monday, Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz said that anyone who wanted to participate in the labor action could do so without being penalized by their employer.

As per Hershkowitz’s instructions, employees must be allowed to strike on Tuesday but their employers reserve the right to dock the time from accumulated vacation days. He also instructed government ministries to hold workshops and other activities to raise awareness for domestic violence on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the Tel Aviv Municipality said its female employees would be allowed to take paid leave Tuesday if they wished to observe the strike. A short time later, the municipalities of Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Ramat Gan, Modiin, and Rishon Lezion made similar announcements.

The Arab-majority towns of Tamra, Tira, Sakhnin, Taibe, Kafr Kassem, Jaljulia and Qalansawe have also said they will participate, among others.

According to organizers, the Rami Levy and Tiv Ta’am supermarket chains, the Fattal hotel chain, the Haaretz publishing group, the Yes TV satellite company, eBay Israel, the Dizengoff Center mall, and the Super-Pharm drugstore chain have also backed the strike.

Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan University announced it would hold a special seminar on domestic violence on Tuesday instead of regular classes. Tel Aviv University and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University canceled some of Tuesday’s classes in support, while Beersheba’s Ben Gurion University called for an on-campus demonstration against domestic violence.

Organizers called the strike last week in the wake of the murders of two teen girls, whose deaths brought the number of women killed in the last year in domestic violence-related incidents to 24, the highest in years. The strike was initiated by a group called “I’m a Woman, I’m Striking” and a “Red Flag coalition” made up of dozens of women’s groups.

Demonstrators attend a rally protesting violence against women, in Tel Aviv on November 25, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On November 26, 16-year-old Yara Ayoub was found dead in her Galilee hometown of Jish, six days after she went missing, according to police. Authorities have identified the primary suspect in the murder as a 28-year-old man from the village, and have arrested several others suspected of involvement.

Many of the details of the investigation, including the identities of the suspects, are under a court-ordered gag order for fear that their publication could hinder the investigation.

Hours later, authorities said Sylvana Tsegai, 13, was found after being murdered in her Tel Aviv home, allegedly by her mother’s former partner Tesfebarhan Tesfasion, who evaded police for several days before being caught. Police reportedly suspect she was also sexually assaulted.

Yara Ayoub, 16, from the Galilee village of Jish, left, and Sylvana Tsegai, 13, who was found dead Tel Aviv. Both were found murdered on November 26, 2018. (Hadashot screen capture, courtesy)

According to reports, Tsegai had been known to welfare authorities as a victim of domestic violence. She reportedly called police on Saturday to complain about Tesfasion being in her home.

At a visit to a women’s shelter on November 25, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, said they were “unsettled” by domestic violence.

Red dye in the water of a fountain at Paris Square in Jerusalem, December 3, 2018. (Gender Counter-Terrorism Unit)

Netanyahu later told ministers he was surprised to learn that “almost nothing” was done to domestic abusers. Netanyahu said the uptick in violence against women in Israel in recent years was “a criminal phenomenon” and called for stricter enforcement.

Netanyahu said he had voted against the Knesset proposal to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry on violence against women because it was presented by opposition lawmakers.

The opposition floated last week’s proposal for a commission of inquiry into violence against women after the government failed to deliver a plan to address the problem, as it had promised to do several weeks ago.

There have been several protests targeting government inaction since the murders, including late Sunday when activists dyed the waters in several public fountains blood-red, including a fountain outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.

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