Behind the rhetorical condemnations of women’s exclusion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are at least partially responsible for women’s exclusion. Discrimination and marginalization of women in the public sphere has been fermenting for years as a direct result of Israeli policies – or lack thereof.
By Gil Gan Mor
Israel’s political leaders are concerned – and justifiably so – with the recent incidents of exclusion and humiliation of women in the name of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. For example the incident of a women who refused to move after Haredi passengers demanded that she sit at the back of a bus from Ashdod to Jerusalem, or the story of the 8-year old girl from Beit Shemesh who was spat on by an Orthodox man for dressing “immodestly.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu recognized the public’s anger at the incidents. He immediately condemned the events and instructed the police to respond. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz joined him by threatening to act against the Beit Shemesh Municipality if it did not remove signs calling for women to avoid walking on the same street as men. Is this really all they can do? While it is important to hear leaders condemn women’s exclusion from the public sphere, I couldn’t help but think that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz should assume much more responsibility for addressing the issue of women’s exclusion.
In fact, Netanyahu and Steinitz are at least partially responsible for women’s exclusion. Discrimination and marginalization of women in the public sphere is not a new phenomenon but has been fermenting for years as a direct result of Israeli policies – or lack thereof.
Netanyahu and his government are responsible because they have failed to ensure the presence of women in state institutions – for example, the Israel Lands Administration‘s board has only one woman out of eight members – and because of the fact that still the more senior the position in state institutions, the fewer percentage who are women.
They are also responsible for women’s economic exclusion due to reckless housing policies, the elimination of public housing and the drastic cut in financial aid for housing, all of which push single mothers into low-income neighborhoods or force them into Israel’s peripheral towns, where they have little prospects for well-remunerated employment.
They are also responsible for women’s economic discrimination since they have neglected public transportation, where 60% of the travelers are women, who must use it regularly to reach their place of employment.
They are also responsible for women’s exclusion for failing to make it their priority to close gaps in income between women and men, for not adequately enforcing the law of equitable salaries, and for failing to end the widespread employment of women as contracted laborers who are de facto denied lack basic labor rights.
They are also responsible for choosing to exclude 15,000 Palestinian women married to Israeli citizens who live in Israel – these women, despite having passed the necessary security inspections, are still prevented from integrating into society and realizing their basic rights, and live under constant threat of deportation and separation from their families. According to Physicians for Human Rights, the majority of these cases of “family reunification” tend to involve Palestinian (non-citizen) women, rather than men – so again, the women are left out.
Israel’s current leadership is also responsible because it has failed to invest more in state-funded preschool education, day care centers and other welfare services that allow women to enter the workforce even as mothers. Instead, they have promoted a cut in taxes, from which 80% of women do not benefit from since their income is too low.
Netanyahu and Steinitz are also responsible for holding women back, by enabling migrant workers in nursing services – largely female – to be bound to their employers or to manpower agencies.
The list goes on.
The struggle against women’s discrimination and exclusion from the public sphere cannot be disconnected from the socioeconomic exclusion of women and other groups in Israel. While it is laudable that leaders are waking up and denouncing this disgrace, the fight against exclusion requires much more than words. It requires a constant commitment to policies advancing integration of those who are systematically excluded, by fighting poverty and social gaps, and by providing every man and woman the equal right to take part in public life.
If the Prime Minister and Finance Minister do not act to amend these things, we will know their declarations are nothing but a media spin.
Gil Gan Mor, an attorney, is currently the coordinator of two projects within the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s Social and Economic Rights Department: Right to Housing and Right to Education.