The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved for a preliminary reading in the Knesset a bill that aims to reorganize the official national authority for advancing gender equality, in a way that critics say will deprive it of its professional independence and instead subject it to the whims of politicians.
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 for the advancement of the status of woman, currently Likud’s May Golan.
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 Monday.
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 panned 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.”
Opposition MK Meirav Cohen of the Yesh Atid party told the outlet the bill was “a delusional move” that was “transferring some of the powers directly to the minister in order to neutralize professional elements.”
“They want to weaken this important body, as part of an overall move to harm women,” she warned. “A political authority will not fight for women, but do only what the coalition tells it.”
Opposition Yisrael Beytenu party MK Sharon Nir said the bill transforms the issue of gender equality, “which should concern all women in Israel regardless of party affiliation, into a political issue.”
“Concentrating the power and authority in the hands of a political entity and not in the hands of a professional entity authorized by law to engage in this, may constitute fatal harm to the status of women in Israel,” Nir said.
Walla reported that the bill was likely to pass a preliminary reading in the Knesset but that its further progress — a committee approval and then three more plenum votes — will depend on the agreement of the government and Minister Golan.
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.