From the ground in Israel

Judicial overhaul update from Kalela Lancaster, NCJW Israel Program Manager

I took a moment between protests on Tuesday’s “day of resistance” in Israel — and in advance of a national women’s strike slated for Wednesday — to share some personal reflections and focus a gender lens on the dramatic events that are taking place here in Israel as our President Herzog prepares to address the United States Congress.

As we happen to be experiencing a record-breaking heatwave right now, it feels as though there is a new layer of undeniability to the fact that events here in Israel have reached fever pitch.

As I shared last week, the Israeli government is aggressively advancing its plans to overhaul the judiciary, starting with the cancellation of the “reasonableness doctrine” which it hopes to legislate next week before the summer recess. Next, we expect legislation that will politicize the judicial selection committee and ministerial legal advisor positions — ultimately usurping the Supreme Court’s powers of judicial review via the much-maligned “override clause”

Alongside their macro overhaul strategy, the government is working to undermine the fundamental systems, structures, and values of our democracy. It appears the first stop on this train is to dismantle women’s rights.

This week, I attended a packed convening at the Knesset under the title “Emergency conference on the elimination of the status of women”. (Yes, you read that right — the elimination.) The conference was convened by Labor Party Head MK Merav Michaeli and MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, Chair of the Knesset committee for advancing the status of women. For two hours, members of Knesset, academics, business leaders, and civil society leaders — representing a broad political spectrum and all sectors of Israeli society — spoke in absolute panic about the moment we are in with regards to gender equality.

NCJW’s Israel team, Kalela Lancaster and Eynat Meytahl, sit behind the dais earlier this week at the “Emergency conference on the elimination of the status of women” in the Knesset

In particular, speakers echoed the concerns NCJW expressed last week in our statement about the moves to disband the National Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women. If this proposal passes, there will be no independent watchdog to preserve and protect women’s rights, but rather a politically motivated puppet body controlled by the government.

Another cause of ire is a new bill aiming to expand the rabbinic courts’ powers in matters of divorce to include alimony and custody elements, which are currently subject to the legal court system. This expansion of rabbinic powers would have dire ramifications for the rights of women in divorce proceedings.

Yet another source of consternation and panic is the new Knesset caucus initiated by female MK Limor Son Har-Melech of Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party, aimed at advancing the “right” to gender segregation. At the first convening of this caucus, the organizers practiced the principle of segregation by denying access to religious women’s organizations. This is unprecedented — Knesset caucuses, committees, and conferences are open to the public unless they are dealing with sensitive security information. 

As argued skillfully by our Connecting for Impact fellow Anat Thon Ashkenazy of the Israel Democracy Institute, all of this shines a light on a truth we know all too well at NCJW. When democratic principles and protections are eroded, the first to be impacted are always women. When we talk about “judicial overhaul” in Israel, as Anat says, it is more evident than ever that “the primary and immediate victims will be women in Israel — all of them.”

In this desperate moment in Israel’s history, Israeli women are organizing in unprecedented numbers, unprecedented ways, and at unprecedented levels of collaboration. Bonot Alternativa’s network of 100,000 women are leading demonstrations across the country this week — ramping up efforts to include targeted protests outside rabbinical courts across the country today. Today, they have called for a national women’s strike. Behind the scenes, feminist leaders are convening, discussing, and planning initiatives to tackle the immense threats strategically. We are proud that at last week’s convening of our network of incredible Connecting for Impact alumni, the seeds of a long-term, field-wide approach were sown. We will work with our partners on the ground to develop this over the months ahead.

As President Herzog prepares to address Congress, a proud and poignant moment for all of us, now is the time to rededicate our partnerships to safeguard the vision of Israel that we all share. Together, we can ensure the future of a Jewish and democratic state based on principles of equality and justice, where women, children and families of all backgrounds and communities can thrive.

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