Women’s groups ask court to intervene over lack of female ministry directors

With only men appointed so far, petition by the Israel Women’s Network, Na’amat and Forum Dvorah seeks to ensure eight remaining vacancies will be filled by women

Members of the new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a group photo at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a group photo at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With the new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still having appointed zero female ministry directors general, a group of three women’s rights NGOs have filed a petition to the High Court asking that it rule that the open director spots be filled with female appointees.

So far, out of a total of 31 vacancies, the government has appointed 23 directors general to its ministries, all of them men.

The petition, jointly filed on Thursday by the Israel Women’s Network, Na’amat and Forum Dvorah, asked the court to step in and ensure that the remaining eight vacancies be filled by women.

It also said that, in line with the 1951 Women’s Rights Law mandating equality between the sexes in civil institutions, the court should work to ensure that half of the ministry directors general be women.

According to the Israel Women’s Network, if the current trend continues, this government will have the lowest representation of female directors general since 2001, when there was just one female appointee.

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer has reportedly indicated he will tap Jordana Cutler, Facebook’s public policy director for Israel, to run his ministry, although no appointment has been officially presented to the cabinet.

Likewise, the Kan public broadcaster reported last week that Likud’s Galit Distel Atbaryan had been given the go-ahead to appoint Sharon Uziel Peled as the director-general of the Public Diplomacy Ministry, charged with countering anti-Israel discourse and boycott campaigns.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives opening remarks during Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, January 29, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Science and Technology Minister Ofer Akunis had intended to appoint former Likud MK Osnat Mark as his ministry’s director, but she withdrew her candidacy after criticism was raised over her lack of relevant experience.

Of the current 32 ministers in the government (some ministries have multiple ministers, and some ministers have more than one portfolio), only six are women: Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman, Public Diplomacy Minister Distel Atbaryan, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, National Missions Minister Orit Strock and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office May Golan.

The last government had nine women in a cabinet of 27. There were also nine ministry directors general who were women during the most recent coalition — an all-time high.

The two ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have no women lawmakers in their ranks, while the far-right religious Otzma Yehudit has one. Among the 64 MKs in the coalition when it was sworn in, just nine were women.

Earlier this month, more than a dozen women’s organizations took part in a women-led protest in Tel Aviv against the current government’s policies, including the Israel Women’s Network, WIZO and Na’amat.

In a 2021 study, the Israel Democracy Institute noted that an increase in women in the Knesset and in government corresponded with an increase in legislation supporting women’s interests and needs. The IDI pointed out that in recent years, “Knesset activities aimed at advancing women’s status in society were carried out mainly by female MKs.”

Amy Spiro contributed to this report. 

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