Every once in a while, along comes a decision which restores faith in the system, and makes you feel that courts can in fact be a vehicle for justice.
That’s the case with a decision handed down last week by Justice Leah Gliksman, sitting as a judge on the Tel Aviv District Labour Court. (She has recently been promoted to the National Labour Court.)
The decision is wonderful in that it has the courage to interpret the law in such a way that a woman who was separated for her husband for 15 years, after a history of continuous emotional and physical abuse, and his refusal to give her a get, is entitled to receive a pension as a spouse from the husband’s employer, the Tel Aviv Municipality.
The judge has used this opportunity to sweeten a life in which until now the widow surely felt like an “untouchable” and “a slow-dying flower” as described in this haunting song by Natalie Merchant:
After the husband died, the Municipality denied the woman her right to the survivor’s pension, basing itself on a statute that the widow is not entitled to the pension if the couple has been divorced or “permanently separated.”
If the widow has a court order for spousal support, the law does in fact allow for the pension to be paid even if divorced. However, this provision was of no use to her since the woman was too intimidated to sue for spousal support – afraid that if she did so her husband would find a way take revenge – so that the Municipality claimed it was not obligated to honour this statute.
Justice Gliksman rejected the Municipality’s claims. To simplify, she made two points: One, that the statute denies the pension in cases where there is “permanent separation” which precedent has determined does not mean separate dwellings, but is a circumstancial test; two, that despite the fact that the woman was too intimidated to file for spousal support over the years, she was actually, by law, entitled to spousal support, and would have had such an award to enforce were it not for the husband’s violence. Therefore, the judge viewed the widow as if she had an award for spousal support in hand.
In one of the key passages of the judgement:
44….A result in which the eligibility of the petitioner to a pension is denied means that the petitioner is punished twice for her husband’s violence towards her: Once in his lifetime – when, because of his violent behavior towards her she was forced to flee their apartment and to barely support herself with cleaning work, because she was prevented, as a result of the violent behavior of the deceased, to sue for the spousal support to which she was entitled and payment of rent for the use the deceased made of their apartment, while the deceased refused to give a get to allow her to rebuild her life; a second time after his death – when, as a result of events which were dictated by the violent behavior of the deceased, she is refused her rights according to the Law of Pensions.
The Municipality claimed that it should not have to bear the burden of the husband’s bad behavior. In response, the judge delineated laws specifically from the world of Labour Law, in which the employer does in fact bear some of the burden of an employee being in an abusive relationship. For example, if an employee needs to go to a battered women’s shelter, her place of employment is reserved for her for up to six months; alternately, she has a right to employee compensation as if fired, despite the fact that the employer had nothing to do with her decision to go to a shelter. Thus, legislation in Israel seeks to protect women in abusive relationships even at a cost to employers. It is in this light that Justice Gliksman interprets the relevant statutes in the case before her.
Moreover, she used this legislation to illustrate the clear judicial and legislative policy which seeks to encourage women in abusive relationships not to reconcile themselves to the violence, but to act to protect themselves.
The motif which runs throughout the judgement is that the court will not interpret the law in such a way as to deny a woman who was denied minimal financial security as a result of the husband’s reprehensible behavior, the little bit of financial security that the law can now give her. All of this, in a well-reasoned, coherent decision in which justice and the law converge.