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ERA—Israeli Style

Israeli women's rights law passes after female lawmaker gives up post


by Naomi Segal

April 6, 2000 | 8:00 pm

The Knesset has passed a landmark law granting equal rights to women in every sphere of Israeli life -- after the bill's sponsor gave up her committee seat to a male colleague.

Along with granting women equality in the workplace, the military and in other spheres of society, the new law also lays out the rights of women over their bodies and protects women from violence and sexual exploitation.

The legislation passed Wednesday is an amendment to a law passed in 1951 that set out in general terms the principle of equality in Israeli society.

After adamantly opposing the bill for a year, the fervently Orthodox Shas Party withdrew its threat to sabotage the legislation after Knesset member Yael Dayan, the bill's chief sponsor, gave up her place on the influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to a Shas legislator.

"For two years I have been trying to get this law through," Dayan was quoted as saying. "I spoke for an entire year with rabbis. They demanded revisions. Shas officials told me all the time, 'It will never be passed.'

"If I knew it was possible to resolve the matter this way, I would have done it a long time ago."

The bill was slated to be brought before the Knesset last month, on International Women's Day.

But, at the urging of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Dayan pulled the bill from the agenda at the last minute after Shas threatened to turn the vote into a no-confidence motion in the government.

Barak came to the Knesset to participate in Wednesday's 49-2 vote.

The bill was backed by all the parties in the Knesset, with the exception of the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) bloc.

Knesset member Moshe Gafni, a member of UTJ, said the concept of equal rights for the sexes is inherently wrong.

"There are certain roles for a woman and for a man," Gafni said. "There is also concern the Supreme Court can take this declaration and use it in a manner that goes against the outlook of the majority of the residents of the country."

Dayan said the "deal" that removed the final obstacle to the bill's passage was launched in a casual conversation in the Knesset corridors in which she joked that she was ready to do anything, even give up her position on the committee.

Shas, however, denied any agreement had been reached.

Shas legislator Yair Peretz, who is to assume Dayan's seat on the committee, said Dayan had asked that Shas withdraw its threat to submit a no-confidence motion if the legislation were presented for a vote.

"I consulted with the rabbis and told her we won't oppose'' the bill, Peretz said.

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