This article was published on the day of a recent ‘women’s strike’ in Israel to protest femicide and violence against women, and before a mass rally of 30,000 people took place in Tel Aviv. Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI) members participated in and supported this strike. They participated at different university campuses (one member, Yasmin Morag, gave a speech to hundreds of students), in demonstrations and at the main rally in Tel Aviv that attracted tens of thousands of people. The rally was particularly significant and was a bold Jewish-Arab protest, defying the racist ‘divide and rule’ in Israeli society.
On Tuesday 4 December, as a response to a wave of gender-based murders of women and girls, an unprecedented day of rage in protest at violence against women takes place, which includes strike actions and demonstrations throughout the country.
25 November marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Horrifyingly, two girls’ bodies were found the next day. One was Yara Ayoub, a 16-year-old from Jish, who had gone missing three days before. The other was Silvana Tsegai, a 13-year-old from Tel Aviv, who was murdered on the same day.
As a result, the number of women murdered in Israel on a gender basis, since December 2017 has reached 24. Most of them were murdered by a family relative. It is an increase compared to recent years.
Despite the increase in murders, it was revealed recently that the government did not fund a programme for the prevention of domestic violence, that was approved last year as an outcome of earlier protests. The government even dropped a proposal to set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry into this matter.
At the same time, the government decided on a cut of 4.6% of its budget. This includes cuts in the ministries of welfare and health, which are supposed to provide solutions for women, in general, and women in distress, in particular.
Consequently, there is a growing anger against the incompetence of the state when it comes to address cases of violence against women. On 18 October, hundreds of Arab and Jewish women, along with men, protested in 20 different locations around the country, for the right of women to live in safety after the femicide cases of Angoach Malkmu Wasa and Aliza Safek.
The recent femicide cases of the two girl teens provoked a wider protest. Significantly, despite the racist ‘divide and rule’ in society, the fact that the last victims were an Arab teen and a teen from an asylum-seeking family from Eritrea did not prevent the protest from spreading across the different national communities.
The largest protest was in Arab localities (before the ‘women’s strike’ and the mass rally, which had a mixed but mostly Jewish composition). The funeral of Yara Ayoub became a protest of thousands. Additional demonstrations took place in Nazareth, Iksal, Jaffa, Sakhnin, Lakiya, Tur’an, Tira and Tayibe. Some protests were hundreds strong and others in the thousands. In addition, dozens of women protested in front of the government offices complex in Tel Aviv; in front of the Knesset, in Jerusalem; and there was also a protest at Ben Gurion University, in Be’er Sheva. Na’amat (‘Working and Volunteering Women’, a women’s organization founded historically by the Histadrut trade union organisation, including all Histadrut female members) organized a protest outside the Prime Minister’s residence, and more students’ protests took place at several campuses.
A protest strike
Feminist activists in Tel Aviv opened an event on Facebook calling for a “women’s strike” on 4 December, with a demand to transfer the 250 million Shekels necessary to fund the mentioned approved governmental programme against domestic violence. Unlike similar calls in the past, this time the initiative gained momentum. It seemed that the example of the experience of the ‘LGBT strike’ that was organised in July helped to make the current call more successful.
Correctly, the organisers of the strike called on the workers’ unions to join the strike initiative. At the same time, while the Histadrut (the main trade union organisation) does not lead a shutting down of the economy, they demanded from employers to allow workers to be absent on that day without deducting from the workers’ wages.
The fear from image damage had already succeeded in making some employers announce they would allow a partial absence or a full absence on the day of the protest, mostly at the expense of the employees’ days-off entitlements. Employers had to give in to this pressure, even though the very idea of a strike and the possibility of a mass response to the current call pose a real threat to the corporations’ profit-line.
The head of the Strauss Group, Ofra Strauss, explained on Galatz radio station in response to the question whether she would allow workers in the corporation she owns to be absent for the protest: “We [i.e. the owners] won’t shut down the group. If half of the workers won’t show up then all of Strauss group will be shut down. But women who’d decide that they want to strike or go on a protest, just as in the strike and the demonstrations of the LGBT, we … encourage it.”
Interviewer: “I didn’t understand — you mean that there won’t be any reduction from their wage?”
Strauss: “No, it’s at the expense of their days-off entitlement… On their own expense, yes…”
Similarly, as some municipalities announced they would allow female workers to be absent on the day of the protest, the CEO of the Interior Ministry said that according to the law, workers at the municipalities and in the public sector cannot be allowed to strike without a reduction of their salary.
Not the struggle of the tycoon Ofra Strauss
To build an effective struggle and an effective strike, one cannot count on the ‘goodwill’ of the capitalist government and of corporation owners.
Although women from all layers of society are exposed to gender-based violence, there is a fundamental conflict of interests between the workers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, tycoons, such as Ofra Strauss and the capitalist government. Not only do a strike and a protest movement on a mass scale threaten their interests, they are responsible themselves for economic distress, inequality, destruction of welfare, harming of women, and in many cases even the perpetuating of sexist prejudices.
The struggle to end violence against women needs to be organized independently of the interests of capitalist owners, the government and establishment elements, which are all part of the problem. It needs to be a united struggle of female and male workers, Jews and Arabs and asylum seekers, for real change. Workers’ unions have the power to lead a wide and effective strike, and also to organise and act upon retaliation attempts by employers opposed to the strike.
The Histadrut, along with Na`amat, announced they will support the strike. That, in itself, is a positive thing that can strengthen the confidence of many workers to execute their right to strike — as the airport workers’ union announced that the airport workers will join protest actions. Another example is the social workers’ union, that called on female social workers to take an active part in the protests. In addition, the Teachers’ Histadrut (part of the General Histadrut) announced their support for the strike — a positive step, even though the protest takes place on a school holiday.
However, unlike the powerful women’s strike in the Spanish state on International Women’s Day, where trade unions called for a solidarity strike, the leadership of the Histadrut only gave its declarative support, without any organizational action. Unlike the ‘LGBT strike’ in the summer, it also did not say it will back the workers who choose to strike, but sufficed with a flaccid call on the employers to “respect their workers’ will”. Although it has not happened yet, it will be positive if the Histadrut announces it will fully mobilise in favour of the protest with strike action, organising meetings at workplaces and organised contingents to participate in demonstrations, striving to significantly intensify the pressure on the government. It is a pity that instead of that approach, the head of the Histadrut, Avi Nissenkorn, in a statement said that he will allow the employees of the Histadrut apparatus to be absent from their work.
Continue to build the struggle
The ‘LGBT strike’, which gave inspiration to the current strike, was an important show of force and, without a doubt, it managed to achieve a change in consciousness in the struggle against the conservative right-wing government. However, it did not manage to bring any concrete change in the state’s official discriminating policies. The show of force of the ‘women’s strike’ needs to be only the starting point for a wider struggle. It’s important to act for the building of continuity and momentum for the struggle, which it wouldn’t be possible to dissolve after one day of protest. This can be done not only via mobilisation of social organisations, but also via grassroots organising of workers and students in workplaces, campuses and schools for assemblies and actions of explaining and protest. It should be demanded from the Histadrut to give a significant backing to the protest, including leading industrial action, as far as necessary.
The government, which refuses to deliver urgent funding for treating violence against women, for decent benefits for disabled people, and for the collapsing welfare and health services, and which incites Jewish, Arab and asylum seeking workers against each other, should face a wide front of struggle.
The struggle to end violence against women is a part of a struggle against the disastrous agenda of the right-wing regime. The social protests that took place in the recent period could help to pave the way for building a genuine political alternative to the capitalist right-wing government.
Violence against women is fundamentally connected to the general discrimination against women in society. Gaining full equality for women, even including women like Ofra Strauss, who became a part of the elite, demands a fundamental change in policies, economy and society.
Many women are fearful of leaving violent relationships because of economic distress, the absence of available and appropriate welfare services, and lack of affordable and proper housing solutions. The distorted logic of the capitalist system dictates transferring billions of Shekels to tax benefits for tycoons, while cutting and extremely underfunding health and welfare services.
The current protest is part of a wave of struggles internationally against attacks on women, against the background of a protracted crisis in the global capitalist system. That crisis is also expressed in austerity measures and the rise of dangerous populist right-wing forces, such as Trump and Bolsonaro, who are both friends of Netanyahu. It is an awakening against the repercussions of a whole system that is bankrupt, heartless and cynical, which perpetuates the perception that there are groups in society that are more equal than others, and creates poverty, alienation, exploitation and objectifying of women. The struggle against violence against women is a part of the struggle for a socialist alternative.
Socialist Struggle Movement calls for:
• Continue to advance demonstrations, especially joint demonstrations of women and men — Jewish, Arab and asylum-seekers — in protest against violence against women of all backgrounds.
• Promote meetings for explanation and for discussion of struggle actions in the workplaces, campuses and schools.
• Full mobilization of the Histadrut in favour of the struggle against violence against women, including industrial action, to the extent of shutting down the economy, if necessary.
• Transfer the required fund for the Emergency Plan Against Domestic Violence. Expansion of aid-lines, security measures and shelters for women affected by violence, and treatment centres for violent men. Full government funding for the aid centres for victims of sexual assault.
• Invest in public housing for female survivors of violence — Jewish, Arab and asylum seekers — as part of an extensive investment programme in accessible, affordable and appropriate public housing throughout the country.
• End cuts, privatizations and budgetary drying up in welfare, health and education services. For a compulsory education programme in all schools for the prevention of gender-based violence.
• Full access to welfare services for asylum seekers, including a rehabilitation programme as necessary, after leaving the shelters for women affected by violence. An immediate examination of all requests for asylum.
• Democratic supervision by women’s organisations and workers’ organisations of police programmes to combat violence against women, on the granting of weapon licenses and on the relevant training of any staff required to handle cases of violence.
• Raising taxes on Ofra Strauss and other capitalists in order to finance development needed for social services. Transfer to public ownership of the banks and large corporations, under democratic supervision and management by the workers’ public.
• Advance a broad struggle against the racist Netanyahu government of Capital and Settlements, and for a socialist alternative.
Solidarity and Socialist Party members of the Irish parliament published published a video solidarity message for the protest and strike