Minister Limor Livnat
Minister Limor Livnat Israel news photo: Flash 90

Feminist groups convinced Minister of Culture and Sports Limor Livnat to support a legal motion filed last week, which they are seeking to use as a means of forcing the inclusion of a radical leftist on the Turkel Committee, and of inserting a legal opinion quoting participants in the violent flotilla into the Committee's report.

On its face, the petition simply demands the inclusion of a woman on the five-member committee headed by Judge (ret.) Yaakov Turkel, which was appointed to investigate the IDF naval raid on the Turkish Gaza flotilla. Minister Livnat, who is the only woman minister from the ruling Likud faction, would naturally support that effort, but may have been manipulated by the feminist coalition into backing the petition, in the belief that it was being submitted by a mainstream group that had no hidden agenda.

Sources close to the minister said that when she saw the actual wording of the draft motion, which included harsh attacks on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and demands that the committee take into account “the suffering of women under siege in Gaza,” she refused to support it. Only after the problematic phrases were changed did she agree to give it her backing.

Instead of speaking of “women under siege in Gaza” and ignoring the plight of Jews – as the press release preceding the motion did – the final and milder wording of the motion speaks of “the experiences of women under the naval blockade in Gaza," but balances that somewhat by also mentioning "women who are under the influence of terror in the state of Israel.”

The 'gender voice'
Despite the deletion of the most incriminating phrases, however, the motion still contains several references to the need to appoint a woman “who will be able to give voice to the necessary gender perspective” on the flotilla event and "express [a] women's point of view on matters of security and diplomacy." The petitioners also express their willingness to “help the respondents locate worthy women, including women who can express the necessary gender voice, who would be willing to be members in the Commission.”


The source close to Livnat said that on July 22, the minister attended an assembly convened by an feminist NGO named Women's Power (Hebrew acronym: Ken). The activists there asked her to speak up in the matter of the appointment of women to the Turkel Committee, and she did so in the next cabinet meeting, which took place last Sunday. Livnat demanded in the name of egalitarianism that women be added to the committee, and warned that this did not happen, she would sign on to a High Court motion by Women's Power in the same matter.

The Justice Minister and Attorney General told her that at least three women jurists, including Prof. Ruth Lapidot, had been approached to sit on the committee, but all had turned down the offers for different reasons. Livnat was not satisfied with the reply. She noted that the government chose to appoint Reuven Merchav and Prof. Miguel Deutsch as additional members of the Turkel committee, despite the fact that Prof. Deutsch's field of expertise is in civil law.

Besides Women's Power, two other NGOs co-signed the petition: Itach-Maaki, a group of Jewish and Arab female lawyers, and the Israel Women's Lobby. Both are NIF grantees. The petition mentions that Itach-Maaki intends to file a legal opinion to the committee detailing the “gender perspective” on the flotilla incident. The opinion, she said, would be attached to the Committee's report and “would, among other things, present the position of women who were on the flotilla.”

Minister Livnat said this week that she was not aware that Itach-Maaki was a party to the petition and did not even know of its existence until last week. While the motion does not say what the content of the opinion will be, Attorney Anat Tahon-Ashkenazi of Itach-Maaki told Tel Aviv's Ha'ir newspaper June 29 that it would “bring the perspective of women peace activists who wish to express their protest in a nonviolent way and also the reality of Gaza women who are under siege.”

Radical e-mail confab
A July 27 e-mail communication that reached Arutz Sheva appears to indicate that the joint motion is being coordinated by radical feminist columnist and campaigner Dorit Abramovich.

The cyberspace consultation includes known post and anti-Zionist activist individuals, alongside New Israel Fund groups and the address, which leads to the the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister's Office.

While the e-mail does not prove collusion between anyone in the Prime Minister's Office and the feminists, it can be seen as indicating that the writers feel comfortable including someone in the PM"s office in their internal consultations.

Over 100 people are listed as recipients of the conversation, most of them part of the radical feminist establishment in Israel. Many of these are also active in support of "alternative" lifestyles. At least one is a communist activist. Some are members of anti-Zionist Arab groups, and many have signed virulently anti-Israeli petitions. One, Lizi Sagie, recently had to resign from a senior post in the New Israel Fund-suppored B'Tselem after a blog post in which she condemned the Remembrance Day for Fallen IDF Soldiers as “a circus of pornography.” Also on the list, however, are women and women's organizations considered to be part of the mainstream. However, all women's organizations routinely back efforts to have women included in committees and they, too, may not have seen the details of the issue.

The email – which appeared in an abridged version in a feminist activists' Google group – is a conversation between three people: one is Abramovich. A second, "Aida," is apparently Aida Toma-Suleiman, whose e-mail address appears on the list of recipients. Suleiman ran for the Knesset on the communist Hadash ticket and barely failed to get in. A third is called Keren Shemesh and is almost certainly attorney Keren Shemesh-Perlmutter, Director of Itach-Maaki. Abramovich writes:

“Hello my dears,
Tomorrow a motion written up by Itach-Maaki together with the Israel Women's Lobby and the NGO Ken (Power for Women) will be filed to the High Court, demanding to include women on the Turkel team.”

Aida reacts by asking whether the Israeli government, which decided to raid the flotilla “and cause the killing of activists,” even has the right to appoint the commission of inquiry. “Perhaps it is time to see the representation of women not just from the liberal [i.e. moderate - ed.] angle,” she adds.

Keren Shemesh responds to Aida by saying that “we absolutely were not content with the liberal representation of women” and adds that “we are also proposing a gender-based opinion that deals with the perspective of women peace activists and women under siege in Gaza. All of this appears in the motion and we demand to appoint a woman who represents this voice.”

Also on the recipient list are anti-Zionist Arab NGO Mosawa; Women Against Violence, which expressed support or MK Hanin Zouabi who participated in the Gaza flotilla on its website (but only in the Arabic pages), and Awsat, a group of “Palestinian gay women.” Aswat's website says that on May 31, “Israel massacred more than 10 international activists... in direct violation of international law” and adds, “We strongly feel repulsed by the masculine military attacks on unarmed activists who could not escape these attacks while on boats in the middle of the sea.”

In response to the story, Minister Livnat told Arutz Sheva that she did not need encouragement from Women's Power in order to act with regard to the Turkel Committee, because she has a deep belief in the principle of equal representation for women. She mentioned that she was among the founders of the Knesset's Committee for Advancement of Women in 1992, and that she now heads the Ministerial Committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women.

Minister Livnat said that she was opposed to the addition of Reuven Merchav and Prof. Miguel Deutsch to the Turkel Committee because a female jurist could have been added to the committee. Minister Livnat voted against the appointment in the government and said she would oppose it, as she in fact has done.

However, despite her support for appointment of women, she cannot join the petitioners to the High Court because she is a member of the government. The minister said that she did not sign any document of support for the petition and that she will continue to advance the appointment of women to public committees as the law requires.

PMO Spokesman Mark Regev responded to the story by saying: “The PMO has no control, nor can there be any control, over e-mails sent to the office or one of its units. The e-mail addresses are not secret and appear in the PMO website.” He did not respond to the possibility that radical feminist groups may be attempting to infiltrate the Prime Minister's office using the guise of egalitarian demands.