Knesset Gathering for Women’s Rights Sparks Controversy
Netanyahu slammed for choice of words: ‘Women are like animals with rights’
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday caused a minor controversy with his remarks at a parliamentary event marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is set to be observed on Wednesday.
“Women are not an animal you can hit, and today we know you can’t hit even animals,” Netanyahu said during his speech in the Knesset before reversing his words.
Women are not an animal you can hit, and today we know you can’t hit even animals
“We know [animals have] an understanding, and intelligence and cognition and feelings; we are compassionate toward them. Well, women are animals, children are animals. Animals with rights. And [abuse toward them] should end,” he said.
The prime minister’s controversial slipup was quickly and roundly condemned by women’s groups and members of the opposition, who criticized Monday’s entire event as nothing more than a cynical political show.
“Feminism is the radical insight that women are human beings,” member of Knesset Tamar Zandberg of Meretz wrote on Twitter following the speech, while MK Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid joked: “The prime minister is an animal too. He has intelligence and cognition and rights – such as the right to utter such nonsense. Lord help us.”
The prime minister is an animal too. He has intelligence and cognition and rights – such as the right to utter such nonsense. Lord help us
Before Netanyahu’s remarks, the two legislators who organized and headed the meeting, Orly Levy–Abekasis, the minister for community empowerment and advancement, and MK Osnat Hila Mark, profusely thanked the prime minister and his wife, Sara, for attending their event, and repeatedly praised Mrs. Netanyahu for her “courageous and tireless work” for women’s rights.
“Ma’am, as someone who is well known as a children’s psychologist, you must realize better than all of us… the importance of this occasion,” Levy said. “I know with your training and background, you have the ability to understand the nuances of these issues.”
Mrs. Netanyahu works part time as a child psychologist in Jerusalem.
“Thank you for coming and taking part in this, I know how much this issue is close to your heart, how important it is to you and how much you work to advance these issues,” Mark added during her own remarks.
The effusive praise and attention given to Mrs. Netanyahu, along with what they called the lack of anything of real substance presented during the nearly two-hour gathering, moved many in the political system and in women’s rights organizations to pan the event.
“We weren’t there; we had other matters to attend to and there are other events at the Knesset in the next few days that we’ll be participating in,” Ruth Resnik, chair of No to Violence Against Women (no2violence), one of Israel’s oldest women’s rights groups, told The Media Line.
Israel’s Women’s League told The Media Line: “This wasn’t an official meeting; no policy was going to be discussed. We’ll be in parliamentary committees this coming week.”
A spokesperson for Levy’s ministry did not respond to The Media Line’s questions regarding what tangible conclusions were reached during Monday’s event.
In addition to the speeches by the prime minister, his wife, Netanyahu’s close ally Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and the two members of parliament organizing the event, representatives for two smaller women’s groups did participate, one of them a right-wing political activist affiliated with Netanyahu’s Likud party and a former candidate for parliament herself.
Monday’s event was also hosted by Yaara Zered, a well-known Netanyahu supporter-turned media personality who currently hosts a radio show with the prime minister’s eldest son, Yair, and in last year’s election served as the Likud’s spokesperson.
The organizers stressed that the event, like the issue of violence against women, was entirely nonpartisan and apolitical. Yet the few speakers from the opposition who were afforded time to speak toward the end did not mince words.
“If I hadn’t known any better, I would’ve guessed we were at some sort of happy ceremony,” scolded MK Yoav Segalovich from Yesh Atid. “I think we’re a little confused, with all these photo-ops and self-congratulations. We’re in no situation to celebrate.”
If I hadn’t known any better, I would’ve guessed we were at some sort of happy ceremony
Segalovich, who said the government had failed to adequately fund women’s shelters and other essential programs, irritated the event’s hostesses, who interrupted his speech and admonished him for his words.
“I’ll say what I believe,” he responded sharply.
“You can see the flock of people that surrounded the prime minister and left the second he left after giving his speech,” he added. “You can give as many blessings or speeches you want, cut as many ribbons, but if you don’t pass budgets, this whole thing is pointless.”