Milestone Israeli law granting women equals rights

Hedva Almog, chair of the Na'amat woman's organization, said the law has "historic meaning." In the absence of a constitution, she said, it codifies the principle of equality for women.

The legislation is an amendment to a law passed in 1951 that set out in general terms the principle of equality in Israeli society.

After adamantly opposing the bill for a year, the fervently religious Shas Party withdrew its threat to sabotage the legislation after Knesset member Yael Dayan, the bill's chief sponsor, gave up her place on the influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to a Shas legislator.

"For two years, I have been trying to get this law through," Dayan said. "I spoke for an entire year with rabbis. They demanded revisions. Shas officials told me all the time, 'It will never be passed.'

"If I knew it was possible to resolve the matter this way, I would have done it a long time ago."

The bill was slated to be brought before the Knesset on March 8, International Women's Day.

At the urging of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, however, Dayan pulled the bill from the agenda at the last minute after Shas threatened to turn the vote into a no-confidence motion in the government.

Last week, Barak came to the Knesset to participate in the 49-2 vote.

The bill was backed by all the parties in the Knesset, with the exception of the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism bloc.

Knesset member Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism said the concept of equal rights for the sexes is inherently wrong.

"There are certain roles for a woman and for a man," Gafni said. "There is also concern the Supreme Court can take this declaration and use it in a manner that goes against the outlook of the majority of the residents of the country."

Dayan said the "deal" that removed the final obstacle to the bill's passage was launched in a casual conversation in the Knesset corridors in which she joked that she was ready to do anything, even give up her position on the committee.

Shas, however, denied any agreement had been reached.

Shas legislator Yair Peretz, who will assume Dayan's seat on the committee, said Dayan had asked that Shas withdraw its threat to submit a no-confidence motion if the legislation were presented for a vote.

"I consulted with the rabbis and told her we won't oppose" the bill, Peretz said.