Ben Gvir rescinds the Safety Fund during a conflict: an NGO fights for women’s health.

The Michal Sela Forum, dedicated to protecting women from domestic abuse, faces a sudden withdrawal of government support under Itamar Ben Gvir’s directive

Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, ended funding for the Michal Sela Forum last week, claiming that the organization—whose programs aim to protect women from domestic abuse—has been misappropriating funds.

The forum—established in memory of Michal Sela, who was murdered by her husband in 2019—offers vital support through initiatives like Sayeret Michal, providing panic buttons to women in danger, and Michal Sela Canines, a program that pairs women with trained guard dogs. According to them, roughly 300 women use their services.

A photo of Michal Sela, who was found stabbed to death at her home outside Jerusalem on Oct. 3, 2019. (Creative Commons)

Lili Ben Ami—the forum’s executive director and Michal Sela’s sister—told The Media Line, “If you look at the way governments all over the world handle domestic violence, you’ll see that the tools they’re using are very primitive.”

If you look at the way governments all over the world handle domestic violence, you’ll see that the tools they’re using are very primitive

“In 2024, we have tools that can predict human behavior. We can save lives. We use those tools for other fields, and it seems like the field of domestic violence has been left behind.”

The funding agreement, signed in August 2022, sought for the NGO and the Israeli government to split funding for two innovative protection programs, Michal Sela Canines and Michal’s Watch. Ben Ami said that the ministry—then under a different name with a different head—was very happy with the results of both programs and agreed to renew the funding for another year.

Michal Sela Canines provides women who are at extremely high risk of intimate partner violence with a trained protection dog. (Courtesy)

However, when the ministry fell into the hands of Ben Gvir, the budget was slashed, and Ben Ami says she had to convince him to renew it altogether.

“It wasn’t easy. But in the end, he said, ‘OK, let’s do it another year.’ We were supposed to do it in an amount of 2.4 million shekel—half [from] the NGO, half [from] the government—and then they came back to us and said, ‘Make it smaller. Make it half a million [from] the government and half a million [from] the NGO.’ And we did. And then this week, suddenly, after six months, we are sponsoring the project by ourselves.”

It became clear to me that they want the money not for the women but to line their own pockets

The investigative journalism collective Shomrim initially uncovered the decision to cut the funding for the forum, which Ben Gvir later confirmed in a 103FM radio station interview. He backed up his decision by saying: “It became clear to me that they want the money not for the women but to line their own pockets. With all due respect, I don’t need to fund an organization’s staff.”

Ben Gvir did not offer any evidence, and the National Security Ministry did not respond to a request for comment from The Media Line. 

Ben Ami calls his claims “100% lies,” adding, “We never had any complaints from his ministry. Our organization has all the accreditations.” 

One accreditation is the Midot Seal of Effectiveness, which measures the expenses, income, and savings of an organization as part of its criteria. 

Ben Ami also told The Media Line that 276 women and 900 children are currently being kept safe by these programs, which offer lifelong protection for women at no cost. Additionally, data gathered by the forum found that there have been 14 “verified incidents” where an at-risk woman was saved via technology or services provided by the forum.

Lili Ben Ami at the Seminar Innovation & Initiatives for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Brazil, Nov. 25, 2022. (Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado)

“We were following all the rules and working by the highest standards, and all the money that we raised is going to the project. He’s just lying. And he knew that if he cut off the money, he would get criticism from the public. So he had to say something, but he has nothing to show for it.”

We were following all the rules and working by the highest standards, and all the money that we raised is going to the project

Ben Ami herself found out about the cuts via a journalist. “And we were very, very surprised because we were working very closely together with the professionals in the ministry, and we were [working] very good together.”

“I don’t know why the minister decided to cut budgets for threatened women. And of all times, in wartime. In wartime, there is a rise in domestic violence.”

A Channel 12 report that aired less than a month after the onset of the war found that the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry had received at least 269 calls from people in abusive or potentially abusive homes. Additionally, the director of hotline services for Na’amat, the largest women’s movement in Israel, told The Times of Israel nearly seven weeks after Oct. 7 that helpline calls had risen 45%.

Ben Ami noted that at least 10 women in Israel have been murdered by a family member during the war.

Two days after the announcement, a 72-year-old woman was stabbed to death by her husband in the Israeli coastal city of Bat Yam.

“Usually, femicide is a result of domestic violence,” Shalva Weil, director of the Israel Observatory on Femicide and Senior Researcher in the School of Education at the Hebrew University, told The Media Line. “Of the 22 cases of femicide in Israel last year, 21 were committed by partners or family members.”

Weil, like Ben Ami, brought up the ongoing conflict with Gaza. “The feeling in the country is one of violence.” 

“Men are in the war, seeing terrible things, experiencing terrible things, using arms. And arms are much easier to obtain on the home front today than they were a year ago. So, people have lots of guns.” 

This is undeniably true. A statement from the National Security Ministry reports that, as of February 8, they have received 288,345 new applications to carry private firearms, with the centers receiving an average of 1,000 new requests every day.

Before the outbreak of hostilities, approximately 850 requests were received per week.

Part of the reason is because Ben Gvir eased restrictions for obtaining gun licenses as a response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. “In the right hands, a weapon can save lives. The war demonstrated this—whenever weapons were present, disasters were smaller,” he said in late October. “A gun can save a family, and an assault rifle can save a building. A weapon can protect you, your family, your street, and your country.”

Not long after, the Michal Sela Forum warned against the potential risks that domestic violence victims face as the country is flooded with new gun owners. “It’s true that personal weapons can save lives,” the NGO posted on X. “However, it is important that we do everything we can to ensure that weapons do not end up in the wrong hands.”