In a precedent-setting ruling on the validity of affirmative action for Israeli women, the High Court of Justice has canceled the appointments of three men as directors of government companies, saying the posts should have been given to women.
This week’s ruling came in response to a petition submitted by the Israel Women’s Network, an umbrella of feminist organizations, that challenged the appointments of Amir Hayek to the board of the Ports and Railways Authority, and of Doron Kushuv and Ya’acov Wenger to the board of Israel Oil Refineries.
The court said the decision was based on a 1993 law requiring “appropriate representation” for both sexes on the boards of government companies. Until this is achieved, the court ruled, ministers must appoint female directors “as far as is possible under the circumstances.”
Women’s groups hailed the decision as a victory for equality of the sexes.
“It’s a breakthrough for women’s right in Israel,” said Rachel Benziman, one of the two lawyers from the Israel Women’s Network who argued the case before the court.
“It is the first time the court stated it is important for us to have affirmative action programs if we want to reach equality,” she told Israel radio.
“I think if you look at the picture that existed before the law was legislated, it was the case that out of 1,800 directors in government-controlled companies, there were only 35 women,” Benziman added.
In its arguments, the Women’s Network did not dispute the qualifications of the male appointees, but said government ministers had not made an effort to consider female candidates.
The Women’s Network charged that in making one of the appointments, Commerce and Industry Minister Michael Harish chose Hayek without even considering 25 senior ministry staffers who were women.
Harish argued in response that his job was to find the best candidate.
In issuing their ruling, from which only Justice Ya’acov Kedmi dissented, Justices Eliahu Matza and Yitzhak Zamir wrote, “The moral strength of a society that seeks equality can be tested by the extent of the efforts it is ready to make to change the status quo and create a new reality of equality.”
The judges stressed that the law does not call for quotas, but that in the absence of any extenuating circumstances, equal numbers of both sexes seemed a reasonable interpretation of the “appropriate representation” called for in the 1993 law.