Communications & Advocacy

Israel Updates

March 8, 2019

Israel elections April 9 – Women face a setback in upcoming Knesset representation

Today, March 8 is International Women’s Day, widely celebrated in Israel and especially important with the upcoming elections in Israel on April 9. This year is not as rosy as past years for women in Israel. The number of women in the Knesset is most likely to decrease, perhaps significantly, in the upcoming elections, after reaching a high of 28% of the current Knesset. In the new leading centrist-left party, Blue and White, which has a platform supportive of women’s issues, the number of women represented on the list is disappointingly small. Blue and White, which has surged in the polls since the merging of Benny Gantz’ Resilience Party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, and which hopes to knock PM Netanyahu from his perch, is heavy in military generals and has only 2 women in the top 10 of the party list and another 3 in the next 10. In the next leading party, Likud, there are also very few women, and there are none in the religious lists where women are still de facto not allowed to run.

In an important action, last night in Israel, a group of 20 leading Israeli feminists met with Benny Gantz and other leaders of the Blue and White party to listen and to discuss issues of concern to women. Among the women rights activists present were partners and grantees of NCJW, including Hamutal Gouri past director of the Dafna Fund and currently of the Kiverstein Institute, Daphna Hacker, the chair of the NCJW Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University, and Michal Margaliot, CEO of the Israel Women’s Network. Hamutal and Daphna are partners in NCJW’s new project, “Connecting for Impact” for which we are bringing a cohort of 17 diverse Israeli feminist leaders to Washington Institute in April.

Elections 2019: Israel PM invites party of disciples of Meir Kahane into the race for the Knesset; Jewish groups including NCJW oppose

NCJW, along with almost the entire American Jewish community, cried out in opposition and disgust as the ideologically violent anti-Arab, anti-Christian, racist Jewish supremacist party Otzmah Yehudit (Jewish Power) was brought into the mainstream fold by PM Netanyahu. Worried that far right-wing votes might be wasted in the upcoming Israeli elections, which are needed in forming coalitions to win, the Prime Minister invited the Kahanist party to join with another right-wing party to create a stronger grouping, which would be part of a Netanyahu coalition. During Meir Kahane’s lifetime when he ran for Knesset, the entire Knesset stood up and walked out when he spoke, and his party was banned at various times from serving in the Knesset. NCJW issued a statement along with other Jewish organizations about the current challenge to democratic norms.

Religion and State: The struggle continues for equal rights for women in Israel, and violently at the Kotel

The battle continues for equal access for egalitarian Jewish worshipers at the Kotel, or Western Wall, in Jerusalem. Women of the Wall members marking their 30th year anniversary and celebrating with prayer at the Kotel, were violently attached by ultra-orthodox Jews and were left vulnerable by the police. Anat Hoffman, director of WOW, called once again for a renewal of the deal for an egalitarian space at the Western Wall; the original deal was broken last year by the Israeli government. Israel Hofsheet, a grantee of NCJW, issued this compelling video regarding religion and state issues in the upcoming national elections:


February 8, 2019

Focus on the upcoming national elections in Israel

NCJW is closely following the campaigns and stories in the months leading up to the national elections in Israel on April 9th, with a special focus on women and gender equality. A central coalition of organizations has formed in Israel, “Nationals 2019”, to promote gender equality in the party slates and platforms. (This coalition is a successor to the “Locals 2018” coalition that advocated and organized for gender equality in the October 2018 Municipal elections in Israel. NCJW supported that coalition’s gender equality goals with a grant for a PR campaign targeting all of Israeli society.)  The “Nationals 2019” coalition has issued a call to action – demanding more equality in the political parties running for Knesset.

Segregation of women walking in the streets

One of the more challenging issues for women in Israel, especially with the increasing strength of the ultra-orthodox in policy making, is the continuing exclusion of women from public spaces and institutions and the creeping attempts at segregation of women in various domains. In past years, we have seen attempts to segregate buses – women in the back! – particularly on bus lines that run through Haredi – or ultra-orthodox – neighborhoods. More recently signs have been popping up, especially in Jerusalem, to segregate men and women to separate streets or alleyways in various mostly ultra-religious neighborhoods Jerusalem. The government in Israel has passed some regulations, the Supreme court has ruled, local ordinances and directives are spotty, and enforcing the laws and rules needs constant attention. In the accompanying article, two of NCJW’s grantees are quoted – the Israel Women’s Network which specifically works on the exclusion of women in Israeli society, and Israel Hofsheet, which focuses on the lack of separation between government and religion.

February 1, 2019

Israel elections: a surprising focus on state and religion by a new candidate

NCJW continues to keep a close eye on the Israeli election season (elections are scheduled early, for April 9, 2019). We are especially watching for issues related to women’s empowerment and gender equality, women’s status in marriage and divorce, the separation between religion and state; social justice and equality; and the search for peace, especially regarding women’s involvement.

Israel generally has a short campaign season; some candidates are just now revealing their positions, only two months before elections. Benny Gantz, a former general, recently announced his candidacy. Gantz is forming a new party called “Hosen l’Yisrael” (Hosen =Resilience) and focused his first speech on his commitment to religious tolerance and pluralism. Gantz also mentioned that he would support various forms of civil marriage.

NCJW’s grantee partner, Israel Hofsheet, is a major organization in Israel providing common-law marriages through legal means, including a special marriage identification card, and the option of conducting a Jewish wedding. You can read here about  Gantz’ speech (NCJW does not endorse candidates in the U.S. nor in Israel; we do advocate for issues.

Inroads in the struggle to end violence against women

In October 2018, thousands of Israelis, especially Israeli women, took to the streets in a Day of Rage to protest the murders of and all violence against women. There were nation-wide demonstrations and strikes, and part of the message was a protest against the government’s deliberate inaction in the face of rising numbers of murdered women. NCJW made a small emergency grant to help cover costs of the Day of Rage.

This week, a high-level government committee formally submitted a plan of action to the minister of social equality, Gila Gamliel, with dozens of recommendations and a $2.7 million budget. The focus will be on public campaigns educating against harassment,  watchdog specialists against workplace harassment in government and in the private sector; and further research. While the committee was high-level, there was plenty of criticism about the paltry amount of funds dedicated to this issue. In addition, the upcoming elections make it uncertain when this plan will be implemented and by whom. We will be on the lookout to see what the future holds for this important initial plan.


January 25, 2019

Elections in Israel: Show My Face!

NCJW is following the national election cycle in Israel, with a special focus on how the race and the elections, scheduled for April 9, 2019, effect Israeli women.

One of the challenges to Israeli women’s empowerment is the tendency in the ultra-orthodox communities to exclude and segregate women in the public space. This week we saw a particularly absurd example of this when the image of Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Hatnua party, was deliberately erased from a campaign billboard calling for unity among centrist parties. In another situation, the image of Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg was also denied from a billboard campaign in the areas near an ultra-orthodox community.

Our NCJW grantee organization, the Israel Women’s Network, which fights exclusion of women from Israel institutions such as the army and university, and from the public sphere, wrote this statement on their facebook page (translated from the Hebrew):

“If a municipality in Israel wanted to remove the face of Avi Gabbai from the billboard signs because he is Mizrahi, a huge outcry would be heard – and rightly so. But when it comes to women – it passes”The removal of women from public spaces was meant to erase their image, voice, and influence. The removal of party leadership undermines their democratic right to conduct an election campaign – because they are women. It damages the potential of the voices they can receive – because they are women. We are issuing an urgent appeal today to the billboard company and to the Bnei Brak Municipality to demand that this illegal practice is stopped immediately, which means that women in Israel do not have equal civil rights. And if necessary, we will not stop our protest. These are not the faces of Livni and Zandberg who have been obliterated from the signs. This is the face of all of us.”

January 11, 2018 Update

National elections called for April 9, 2019 – will gender equality be a winner?

NCJW will be closely following the Israeli campaign season over the next four months leading up to the national elections on April 9th, with a special eye on the issues surrounding gender equality. Almost all of NCJW’s Israel grantees are involved in the elections in some way regarding the issues, whether #metoo and violence against women; the entanglement of state and religion in Israel; employment discrimination; the exclusion of women from the public sphere; and efforts towards peace  – and getting women into decision-making roles in this important and complex goal. A couple of our grantees are more directly involved in elections and gender equality, whether through their organizing work to train women to run for office or their legal efforts to support women as they break through Haredi (ultra-orthodox) bans blocking women from running on the Haredi party lists.

Last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to call early national elections in April – originally scheduled for fall 2019. In a (one-chamber) parliamentary system such as Israel’s, many different parties compete for votes. The parties present a ranked list of the candidates they want to serve in the Knesset. The people vote for a party, not for a particular candidate, and the percentage of votes each party receives will determine the percentage of their list that will enter the Knesset (there is a minimum threshold of 3.25% of all votes for a party to gain entry into the Knesset). There are 120 Knesset members in all. The April elections will bring in the 21st Knesset. In the 20th Knesset elected in 2015, there were 10 different parties, and the number of women in today’s Knesset is 35, about 29%. This is a higher percentage than in the U.S. (Also, representation of women in local regional and municipal elected bodies doubled in this recent October’s local elections! –  but is still very low, at 5%.)

This week, a new coalition of organizations interested in promoting gender equality in the national elections met for the first time to discuss goals, strategy, and tactics.  WePower (an NCJW grantee) organized the new coalition, based on the successful creation of a gender equality coalition for the recent local elections, “Locals 2018”.  The new coalition, “National Elections 2019” is calling for no less than 50% women in the Knesset, and for 50% of Ministers nominated to be women.

One of the areas of interest regarding gender equality is the rise of political women in the Haredi world. This week saw a win in the Supreme Court towards gender equality in the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) parties. The organization “Itach-Maaki Women Lawyers for Social Justice,” one of NCJW’s grantees, co-led a suit against discrimination against women in the party Agudat Israel, which bans women from running. Agudat Yisrael was told by the Supreme Court that it had 21 days to amend its by-laws and allow women to run. The practical outcome will be more complicated.

Other Haredi women throwing their hats into the ring in very interesting races that challenge stereotyping, are Michal Zerowitski who is running in the Labor Party on a platform of “Breaking Conventions” and for equality, social justice, and peace. Also, a Haredi woman, Adina Bar-Shalom, from a famous Haredi family, has created a new party with the intent of creating gender equality between men and women and including members from many different communities in Israel. Since founding the party earlier in the year, she has now decided that she will herself enter her political party as number one on the list.

December 14, 2018 Update

Violence against Women

We are not going to take our eye off the ball- once again violence against women is the center of attention as the 25th women to be murdered this year in Israel has sparked renewed calls for protests  – this time for daily demonstrations until the Israeli government  follows up on promises to actually distribute funds already allocated to agencies fighting domestic violence and violence against women in general in Israel, and to pass new legislation (see last week’s newsletter to learn about the massive demonstrations throughout Israel last week protesting the government’s inaction after 2 more girls were murdered).

A win in the struggle in LGBT community in Israel to be recognized without prejudice as parents

The LGBT community won a victory in the Supreme Court in Israel today regarding the right to be recognized as adoptive parents. This has been an ongoing struggle in the gay community in Israel as various regulations stemming from the ministry of the Interior have attempted to deter homosexual men in particular from parenthood, whether in cases of surrogacy or adoption by both male parents.

December 7, 2018 Update

Israeli women rise up and stir the nation – ending violence against women

This week we highlight and salute the many phenomenal activist women in Israel who organized a wildly successful day of rage to protest violence against women and the lack of government motivation to find solutions. With laser-like focus and great creativity, a couple of women using social media, and over 50 women’s and civil society organizations came together to found a day of rage this week, on Tuesday, Dec 4th. From the north to the south, women organized demonstrations, protests, strikes, teach-ins, die-ins (with fake blood), created red-based sculptures and pasted hundreds of death notices in public places all around Israel in memory of the many women who have been murdered in the past decade, primarily at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends, and family members. A spate of recent murders, including those of two young girls ages 13 and 16, galvanized the nation-wide reaction to the murders of 24 women this year alone. Read here for a fascinating and close look at the day itself, and read a great article here about how the organizing unfolded and how the whole day was almost sidelined by a security situation in the North.

The day of outrage ended in a mass demonstration of 30,000 protestors in Tel Aviv. See here to watch the rousing speech (in Hebrew with English subtitles] of Michal Gera Margaliot, the director of the Israel Women’s Network, a grantee of NCJW, and a leading organizer of the day.

Protestors were particularly furious about the disgraceful actions – or non-action – of the Israeli government when only a couple of weeks before it refused to pass a vote to create a special Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, and even more outraged to discover that millions of dollars the government cabinet had agreed to provide over a year ago was never distributed to the various agencies tasked with programs to combat domestic violence against women. Read here a very informative article with data about domestic violence, and also about the experience of violence against women in the  Palestinian  Israeli community.

NCJW stands in solidarity with our sisters in Israel. We especially thank our grantee organizations for all their brilliant and dedicated work (NCJW’s grants are funded mostly by the sections). In the months to come, we will be monitoring the situation to see whether the government has taken the steps demanded by the protestors: full budgeting for the national plan regarding violence against women;  creation of a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry: an emergency plan to protect women at high risk; and a speedy legislative process to address violence against women.

November 30, 2018 Update

Violence against women

This week saw two more teenage girls murdered in Israel – bringing the total to 24 women and girls murdered this year – and this on the heels of the murders of 2 women just a few weeks ago.  This year has seen an alarming increase in the numbers of murders against women. There have been demonstrations throughout Israel, and pressure has been brought to bear in Israel’s Knesset to pass a law (the Knesset recently voted against this law due to political considerations) and release funds for programs regarding violence against women. Several of NCJW’s partner and grantee organizations are working on this issue, including the Women’s Forum of Tel Aviv University’s NCJW Women and Gender Studies program, which just held a conference called “What happened when I complained – symposium on the struggle to end violence against women.”

Culture law derailed – a win for democracy in Israel – at least for now

This week, the Knesset postponed their vote on a controversial legislation that would grant the Culture Ministry, Miri Regev, the power to withhold funding based on political criteria. The so-called culture loyalty bill, proposed by Regev, which has been criticized as a form of censorship over the arts, was removed from the day’s plenary schedule. It was set for a final vote during the afternoon session.  Read more about the bill here.

Women are rising up

Finding a way out of the violent conflict with the Palestinians has been elusive, for decades now. Many women are rising up in Israel.  They have become members and activists of Women Wage Peace, a fast-growing grassroots activist initiative with tens of thousands of participants, and one of NCJW’s grantee partners. Women Wage Peace has embarked upon their new annual campaign, to advocate for the passing of a new law in the Knesset called “Political Alternatives First.” This law would require the security cabinet to consider nonviolent solutions to war when the decision-making process first begins. WWP has been collecting signatures from the Israeli public to bring pressure to bear on the senior Ministers of the Knesset.

Related Resources