Thousands protest in Tel Aviv, calling for end to violence against women

Thousands gather in Tel Aviv for annual rally to end violence against women. Calls to emergency domestic violence hotlines have increased 122 percent over the last few months.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

An estimated 12,000 protesters gathered in Charles Clore Park in Tel Aviv on Monday, calling for an end to violence against women. The annual protest comes after a two-month coronavirus lockdown, in which nonprofits have seen an uptick in domestic violence complaints as calls to emergency hotlines soared.

Ten Israeli women and a baby were murdered in domestic violence incidents in the past year. The protesters demanded that the government change the way it addresses the issue, calling for harsher punishments for perpetrators and funding for domestic violence-prevention programs.

Israel’s Labor and Social Services reported that calls to their emergency domestic violence hotlines soared 122 percent since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. WIZO, the leading nonprofit in Israel serving battered women, said their women’s shelters are currently operating at maximum capacity, with waiting lists.

Additionally, WIZO has received a 400 percent increase in calls for counseling and assistance to violent men, and a 60 percent increase in their crisis hotline for battered women.

Labor and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmueli spoke at the rally. “In order to defeat [domestic violence], we need to mobilize the entire government in order to provide the necessary resources,” he said.

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“The Labor and Social Services Ministry will do everything to protect the personal safety of women and children.”

Anat Nir, one of the rally’s organizers, told a reporter from Yediot Ahronot, “Therapy for abusive men and their rehabilitation is critical. We know that 60 percent of violent men who undergo treatment in prison leave the cycle [of domestic violence] when they return to society. The state must urgently allocate the funds for rehabilitation and treatment of violent men.”

“The NIS 250 million domestic violence prevention program has been waiting for its funding since June 2017, exactly three years ago,” Nir added.

She called on the government to release the funds as soon as possible.

Other speakers at the rally included Shira Vishniak and Lily Ben-Ami, two women whose sisters, Maya Vishniak and Michal Sela, were murdered by their partners. A reporter from Yediot Ahronot witnessed a touching exchange between the two grieving women.

“My late sister Maya is my other half,” said Vishniak. “We would do everything together. I never imagined I would have to continue my entire life without her.”

Ben-Ami responded, “I’m here for you. Now we’re family. I know exactly what you’re feeling. I’ve gone through all the stages.”