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Israel passes women’s rights law

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JERUSALEM, April 2 (JTA) – 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.

Women’s rights groups in Israel hailed the Knesset action.

Rina Bar-Tal, chair of the Women’s Network, called the law a

milestone.

Hedva Almog, chair of the Na’amat woman’s organization, said the law

has “historic meaning” and that in the absence of a constitution, it codifies the

principle of equality for women.

The legislation passed March 29 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 the 49-2 vote.

The bill was backed by all the parties in the Knesset, with the exception

of the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism 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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