Six shelters for battered women are likely to close because the organizations running them for years did not win the tender issued by the Social Affairs Ministry to operate them.
"We're not dealing with a money-making business but with professionals who have been working in this field for years," says Ronit Ehrenfreund-Cohen, chairman of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. It is the umbrella organization for the 13 rape crisis centers operating throughout Israel.
In November 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged NIS 5 million for the women's shelters. "We haven't received a cent of that money yet," says Ehrenfreund-Cohen.
The shelters are run by various organizations such as WIZO, Naamat, L.O. Combat Violence Against Women and others, which provide shelter and immediate mental and social assistance for women who have fled their homes - most often with children - because of their husbands' violence.
The Social Affairs Ministry recently informed six of the organizations running the crisis centers, by fax, that they had lost the tender to operate the shelters.
"The two shelters we operate are considered among the best in Israel. We lost the tender because of a missing paper testifying that WIZO owns the building in which the shelters are located," says Ehrenfreund-Cohen. "This is absurd. The ministry could have asked us for the missing paper."
The organizations operating the crisis centers held an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the situation.
"No shelter will close down," a Social Affairs Ministry official said.
"There is a period of over three months during which the ministry will consider steps to find a solution for all the sheltering women," he said.
But so far the ministry has not found an operator who fulfills the required criteria for six of the shelters.
"We'll try to find solutions. It's not clear what we'll do yet, but we'll try to continue operating the shelters, either temporarily or permanently," says Yael Harmel of the Social Affairs Ministry.
Asked if the ministry would ease the requirements to enable the organizations running the shelters to win the tender, she said, "I can't promise anything because we're looking into it. In any case, the women won't be thrown into the street. I promise the shelters' occupation will remain the same, and that the women will receive the protection they deserve."
The ministry's spokeswoman, Roni Malkai, said: "Our basic demands will not change because they are instructions from the accountant general.
The 13 crisis centers currently provide shelter and protection to some 160 women nationwide, but they are but a few of the women who suffer domestic violence and need help.
"Israeli women's situation regarding domestic violence is not good, to put it as an understatement. We must increase the number of shelters, not reduce them, and they must formulate tenders that will enable the private sector to enter a professional area," says Ehrenfreund-Cohen.
The Social Affairs Ministry said that "the ministry, which finances the shelters, is obliged to see that the living conditions, work and treatment in them are up to professional standards. The ministry, which has taken over responsibility for the shelters' budgeting and operation over the past two decades, is subject to the law on tenders and the accountant general's instructions."
Asked about the money promised by the prime minister, Harmel said, "We got the money only two weeks ago. Now we're examining how to distribute it, but I don't know if that will be done before September."