After a public firestorm over a proposed law regulating parenting in Israel and enabling children to take their parents to court over various alleged violations of their “rights” – a co-sponsor of the bill has stated flatly that he will remove from the bill clauses that interfere in parenting.
MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), who co-sponsored the bill along with Minister of Gender Equality Gila Gamliel (also of Likud), said Tuesday that the law is only meant to make divorce laws in Israel more fair toward fathers, and not to change relations between parents and children in general.
"It is important for me to clarify matters,” he wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday, in response to the intense public anger that followed Arutz Sheva's reporting on the bill. “The bill's intent is to interfere only in cases where, following divorce, a conflict between parents results; a conflict that hurts everyone: fathers, mothers and children, too – sometimes to the point that the child is cut off from one of his parents, unjustly. The law must prevent harm to the welfare of the child in these cases.”
"Neither I nor the minister intend to determine or interfere in parental authority or the way that parents choose to educate their children,” he explained. “If we find that there are clauses in the bill that diminish or interfere in parental education, then we will make sure to remove them in the process of legislation in the Knesset.”
Sponsors unaware of their own bill's meaning?
The main lobbyists for the “Parents and their Children” bill, which has been presented to the Knesset in various versions in recent years, are representatives of divorced fathers, who would like to see it pass because it would cancel the Tender Years Clause that gives mothers a clear advantage over fathers in deciding custody.
However, Gamliel and Kisch seem to be unaware, at best, of the fact that the bill also carries out a revolution with regard to parental authority in general – among married parents as well, and all other parents. To start with, the bill abolishes the basic legal concept of parental custodianship as codified by Israeli law in 1962, and replaced it with the concept of “parental responsibility,” which mostly involves a long list of children's rights, and parental duties.
The bill makes it possible to limit or completely take away even this weakened parental authority, should a court become convinced of the existence of circumstances in which the parent “is not discharging his parental authority for the benefit of his daughter or son.” A legal process against the parent can be launched if the other parent, the child himself, or the Attorney General, turn ti the court against the allegedly unruly parent. None of this depends on the parents being divorced or in the process of divorcing.
The items on the menu of children's rights defined by the bill include “the right to have their parents take care of their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development, as well as their education and the development of their personal skills, in accordance with their age and abilities.” Another right the bill delineates is “the right to freedom of thought, expression, conscience and religion.”
The version of the bill submitted to the 19th Knesset by Gamliel also included that right of children “to be prepared for a life of responsibility in a free society in a spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality between the sexes and friendship between all nations and ethnic, national and religious groups.”
The latest version of the bill, submitted by Gamliel and Kisch a week ago, appears to have amended this clause and now only speaks of “the right to be educated to a life of responsibility and respect for the basic rights of all persons, regardless of race, sex, religion or origin.”
Kids taking parents to court
Regardless of the latest change, the bill still appears to open a wide window to court motions by children of all ages against their parents, by one parent against the other, and by the state against parents, for alleged violations of children's rights. A minor could complain, for instance, that his parents are failing to educate him to respect people “regardless of race, sex, religion or origin” or that they are denying him his freedom of conscience by forbidding him from becoming an anarchist or a Muslim.
A mother could petition the court and demand that her husband's parental rights be curtailed because he is neglecting their children's “mental and spiritual” development; a man could ask the court to take away his wife's parental status because of her disresepect for their children's freedom of expression, etc.
In addition, Section 9b of the bill determines that in cases of disagreements with his children, “the parent will act, to the extent possible, to reach agreement with the girl or boy by peaceful means, on his own or through a third party, including a professional therapist or mediator.”
The bill's explanatory notes make clear that by this, the law “directs parents not to use forcible disciplinary means toward their children, but to try and take a course of dialogue with the children, and if need be – receive assistance from third parties, like relatives, friends or professional elements such as counselors or therapists, in order to reach understandings with the children.”
In other words – it appears clear that should the bill pass, a parent who takes disciplinary action against his child could find himself summoned to court following a complaint by his own child.
'Changes without my approval'
Minister Gamliel also told Arutz Sheva Monday that she may change the bill's phrasing.
"God forbid,” she said, “I did not think for one moment that an enlightened country needs to intervene in parents' decisions on these issues. That was not the legislation's intent, and the law is not supposed to be open to such interpretation… I will check and find out if, perhaps, the matters lost their interpretative direction as a result of changes that were made without my approval.”
"From the outset, we do not intervene in the degree of education by parents,” she stressed, adding that if, as a result of the bill's attempt to create equality between men and women in divorce, “there is a byproduct of far-reaching consequences that I did not think of – then these are things that certainly should be clarified in the explanatory notes to the law or by changing the clause in the law to which you are referring.”
"If, in the course of legislating the bill, we discover that the interpretation of the bill does not conform with the legislative intent – we will make the required changes,” she stated.