Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Israel: Protection available to female victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, including legal mechanisms; whether there are any reports of police refusing to process complaints of sexual harassment from ex-Soviet Union immigrant women

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 2 June 2003
Citation / Document Symbol ISR41568.E
Reference 1
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Israel: Protection available to female victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, including legal mechanisms; whether there are any reports of police refusing to process complaints of sexual harassment from ex-Soviet Union immigrant women , 2 June 2003, ISR41568.E , available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f7d4db50.html [accessed 20 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Resource and Policy Research Center of the Israel Women's Network (IWN), "an independent and non-partisan non-profit organization" established in 1984 that "promote[s] the status of women in Israel," recently published its annual report in Hebrew(IWN 15 May 2003). Although the report, Women in Israel - Compendium of Data and Information is currently being translated into English (ibid.), the IWN excerpted the section of the publication that pertains to sexual harassment of women in the workplace, and forwarded this information to the Research Directorate (ibid. 20 May 2003). The information provided is as follows:

The Law prohibits sexual harassment as well as persecution following the filing of a sexual harassment complaint. The Law specifically addresses a situation of sexual harassment in the workplace, establishing that indecent acts or extortion by threat, propositions, references or behavior of a sexual nature within the framework of an employment relationship which exploits authority, will be considered sexual harassment, even if the harassed individual has not refused the propositions and has not rejected them explicitly.

EMPLOYER'S OBLIGATIONS

An employer must take the following reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment or prejudicial treatment within the framework of labor relations:

– The employer shall provide an effective method for filing a complaint.

– The employer shall handle complaints effectively, and shall take all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of the said act and to rectify any harm caused.

– The employer shall appoint an individual responsible for handling sexual harassment matters, receive complaints, investigate them, advise and provide information and training.

Additionally, an employer employing more than 25 employees must prescribe a set of rules and regulations that encompass the provisions of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Law within the realm of labor relations and specify the means of filing and handling complaints. The employer shall bring the set of rules to the attention of the employees.

The Sexual Harassment Prevention Law is a unique law by virtue of three courses of action which it offers:

– In the criminal realm - the victim may file a complaint with the police for sexual harassment and persecution. Violation of the law is a criminal offence and the offender shall be liable for imprisonment.

– In the civil realm - the victim may file a civil suit in a court of law. The harassed person may bring legal charges against the harasser and be awarded compensation without proof of damage.

– In the labor relations realm - the victim may file a suit in a labor court with respect to sexual harassment or persecution in the workplace. The labor court has the authority to hear suits related to sexual harassment in the realm of labor relations and to award the harassed person compensation without proof of damage.

These actions do not constitute a substitute for internal actions in the workplace.

The Employment (Equal Opportunities) Law provides that an employer, or a person in charge on his behalf, shall not, within the realm of labor relations, discriminate against an employee or a person seeking employment against a background of sexual harassment with respect to hiring, working conditions, promotion, professional training or studies, dismissal, severance pay, benefits and retirement payments (IWN 20 May 2003).

According to the IWN, "the law is relatively new so the question of its effectiveness is hard to answer at this point" (ibid. 1 June 2003).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the IWN also stated that it has "no statistics yet on the number of complaints [filed under this law], and there have been very few court judgements so far" (ibid.). However, according to one news report, citing a 1997 survey, the IWN stated that "48 percent of working women have been targets of sexual harassment on the job" in Israel, and, according to legislator Zehava Galon of the Meretz party, "75 percent of the victims do not file complaints" (AP 8 Mar. 2000).

For additional information on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, please refer to the attached information from the IWN Website entitled "Sexual Harassment: Background and Current Status," as well as to the attached copy of the law.

According to the IWN, "[t]here are no state agents that inspect the workplace," and "[t]here is no Human Rights Commission, but for civil service workers there is the Unit for the Integration and Advancement of Women of the Civil Service Commission" (1 June 2003). This Unit

... accompanies all female employees during their testimony in the Civil Service disciplinary court and throughout complaint processing by the Claims Division and the Investigation and Discipline Division. Furthermore, according to the Head of the Unit for the Integration and Advancement of Women, continuous contact is maintained with the complainant, monitoring handling of the complaint and offering support and assistance in preventing persecution (IWN 1 June 2003).

The IWN also added that "[f]emale victims can sue their employers, and so far it has been done in a very few cases" (1 June 2003).

In March 2000, the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) passed the Equality of Women Law, which provides that "every woman is entitled to protection from violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and trafficking" (AI 18 May 2000; see also Country Reports 2002 31 Mar. 2003, Sec. 5).

That same month an investigation was launched against the Israeli transportation minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, for allegedly sexually assaulting a 23-year-old employee on several occasions (AP 8 Mar. 2000; The Jerusalem Post 13 Mar. 2000). A year later, in March 2001, Mordechai was found guilty by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court of two counts of committing indecent acts against two female subordinates, and acquitted of harassment charges brought by a third woman (Israel Insider 22 Mar. 2001; Chicago Tribune 22 Mar. 2001; BBC 21 Mar. 2001). According to the Chicago Tribune, "[t]he prosecutor portrayed Mordechai as a politician who compulsively exploited his status to corner women subordinates and force himself on them" (22 Mar. 2001).

The conviction of Mordechai was the first time that an Israeli politician had been convicted under the Law for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment, enacted in 1998 (Israel Insider 22 Mar. 2001; BBC 21 Mar. 2001; Chicago Tribune 22 Mar. 2001). Israeli women's groups, commenting on the case, stated that "sexual harassment is rarely prosecuted in the country" (BBC 21 Mar. 2001), but that it is "a common abuse of power" in Israel (Chicago Tribune 22 Mar. 2001).

In April 2000, an investigation was launched against Avi Friedman, the general manager of Continental Airlines in Israel, after three female employees filed a police complaint alleging that he had sexually harassed them (Globes 5 April 2000). The Research Directorate was not able to find any information on the outcome of this investigation.

According to information on international perspectives on sexual harassment posted in 2000 on the Website of Pennsylvania State University, "[s]exual harassment is beginning to be taken seriously in Israel" (Aug. 2000). Further, "[i]n contrast to the US definition of sexual harassment as an issue of equality, the Israeli definition is based on the concept of respect" (Pennsylvania State University Aug. 2000).

However, in 2001, R. Werczberger, of the Research and Information Center of the Knesset, wrote a report entitled "The Advancement of the Status of Women in Israel" stated that "[v]iolence against women continues to be a serious problem, ranging from domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment, incest, trafficking in women for prostitution and honor-killing or femicide (mostly in the Muslim sector)" (Jewish Virtual Library 2001).

In December 2002, former Knesset member and current president of the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, Marcia Freedman, stated that, beginning in 1985 until 2000, legislative measures were introduced to improve the status of women in Israel, including laws guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, prohibiting employment discrimination and sexual harassment and providing minimum jail terms for rape (Jewish Bulletin News 20 Dec. 2002). However, according to Freedman, "'[a]bsolutely none of those laws have affected anything at all ... . Most either have some loophole or lack any enforcement authority'" (ibid.). She also added that "there are no provisions for class-action lawsuits" and that there is no training or education in Israel for the judiciary, employers and the public on the concept of a "'hostile work environment'" which, says Freeman is "one of the standards for sexual harassment under American law" (ibid.).

In January 2002, lawyer and former member of the Israel Bar Association's committee on judicial appointments, Shimon Ben-Ya'acov, was indicted "on charges of sexually harassing and committing indecent acts upon a Filipina maid he had employed for two years" (The Jerusalem Post 7 Jan. 2002). Ben-Ya'acov apparently kissed the woman and touched intimate parts of her body, and offered her "money for sexual favors and threatened to fire her and have her deported back to the Philippines if she refused" (ibid.). The Research Directorate was not able find any information on the outcome of this investigation.

In March 2003, a "popular" Israeli entertainer, Dudu Topaz, was charged with sexually harassing two young women (Israel Insider 14 Mar. 2003). Topaz claimed the incidents "were innocent expressions of affection common in the entertainment industry" (ibid.). The Research Directorate was not able find any information on the outcome of this investigation.

For additional information on sexual harassment in Israel, please refer to the attached "Statement by Ms. Amira Arnon, Representative of Israel to the Third Committee on Advancement of Women" (13 Oct. 1999), and the attached excerpt on the equal rights of men and women taken from the Second Periodic Report Concerning the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (2001).

The Research Directorate was not able to find any reports of police refusal to process or investigate complaints of sexual harassment from ex-Soviet Union immigrant women. The IWN also indicated that it has no information in this regard (20 May 2003). However, the attached 1999 article published in The European Journal of Women's Studies, entitled "'Women with a Russian Accent' in Israel: On the Gender Aspects of Immigration," provides general information on sexual harassment of former Soviet women in Israel. More recent information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Amnesty International (AI). 18 May 2000. "Israel: Israeli Government Must Stop Human Rights Abuses Against Trafficked Women." (AI Index: MDE15/021/2000) [Accessed 29 May 2003]

The Associated Press (AP). 8 March 2000. Mark Lavie. "Cabinet Minister Takes Leave After Police Open Sexual Assault Inquiry." (NEXIS)

BBC. 21 March 2001. "Israeli Politician Guilty of Sex Charges." [Accessed 28 May 2003]

Chicago Tribune. 22 March 2001. Deborah Sontag. "Israeli Ex-Defense Chief Guilty." (NEXIS)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002. 31 March 2003. United States Department of State. Washington, D.C. [Accessed 28 May 2003]

Globes [Rishon Le-Zion, Israel, in English]. 5 April 2000. Dror Marom. "Police Investigate Continental Airlines Israel General Manager Under Warning on Suspicion of Sexual Harassment; General Manager Avi Friedman Denies the Suspicions Against Him." (NEXIS)

Israel Insider [Tel Aviv, in English]. 14 March 2003. Debbie Berman. "Popular Israeli Entertainer Charged with Sexual Harassment." [Accessed 28 May 2003]

_____. 22 March 2001. "Yitzhak Mordechai Convicted of Sexual Misconduct." [Accessed 28 May 2003]

Israel Women's Network (IWN). 1 June 2003. Correspondence received from the Resource Center Coordinator.

_____. 20 May 2003. Correspondence received from the Resource Center Coordinator.

_____. 15 May 2003. Correspondence received from the Resource Center Coordinator.

The Jerusalem Post. 7 January 2002. "News in Brief." (NEXIS)

_____. 13 March 2000. Margot Dudkevitch. "Mordechai's Bureau Chief, Driver Questioned by Police." (NEXIS)

Jewish Bulletin News [San Francisco, in English]. 20 December 2002. Ronnie Caplane. "Israeli Women Vying for Equality at Work and Home." [Accessed 28 May 2003]

Jewish Virtual Library. 2001. R. Werczberger. Research and Information Center of the Knesset. "The Advancement of the Status of Women in Israel." [Accessed 28 May 2003]

Pennsylvania State University. August 2000. "Information on Sexual Harassment: International Perspectives." [Accessed 28 May 2003]

Attachments

The European Journal of Women's Studies. 1999. Vol. 6. Larissa I. Remennick. "'Women with a Russian Accent' in Israel: On the Gender Aspects of Immigration."

Israel. 2001. Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Second Periodic Report Concerning the Implementaiton of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). [Accessed 28 May 2003]

_____. 13 October 1999. Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations. "Statement by Ms. Amira Arnon, Representative of Israel to the Third Committee on Advancement of Women." 54th Session of the General Assembly. [Accessed 29 May 2003]

_____. 1998. Ministry of Justice. Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, 5758-1998. [Accessed 28 May 2003]

Israel Women's Network (IWN). n.d. "Sexual Harassment: Background and Current Status." [Accessed 29 May 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

World News Connection

Internet sites, including:

The Canadian Jewish News

European Country of Origin Information Network

Human Rights Watch

International Labor Organization

Jewsweek

Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East Times

Search engine:

Google

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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