The Fight for the Family in Israel

Writing about Israel's policies regarding the family is very difficult, for at least two reasons.

One is that the statistics are hard to find and they are bitterly contested. The second is that anything written from a conservative viewpoint is simply brushed off. 

There is definitely a war being fought in regard to the family.  It is, however, only the Left that is fighting it. The Right is blissfully unaware of the war being waged under its very nose.

And yet, the fact is that just as there is a Left-Right dichotomy on matters economic and social, and on matters related to security and diplomacy, there is also a very deep Left-Right dichotomy on matters related to sexuality, family and morality.

The Americans and British are aware of this dichotomy, because the US and Britain have longstanding traditions of political conservatism. Israelis are not, because Jews have a very short history of political conservatism, and a very long history of political ultra-liberalism, which antedates the establishment of the State of Israel by 100 years (Karl Marx published the Communist Manifesto in 1848).

While Israel's Rabbinical Courts do exert hegemony over approving Jewish marriages and divorce decrees, this hegemony is steadily slipping away, as the Family Courts founded in 1995 by activist Supreme Court President Aharon Barak erode the Rabbinical Courts' power – assisted by left-leaning groups, including those of religious women.

Arguments over matters such as abortion are not part of the public discourse. Nor is there any discussion of the Family Courts' propensity to lock fathers out of their homes based upon uncorroborated – or even clearly false – allegations of violence. Public discourse over justice in divorce is controlled by the liberal narrative that portrays the Rabbinical Courts as seats of misogynism, where black-suited bearded men assist Jewish husbands in humiliating and blackmailing their invariably innocent and mistreated wives.

One claim put forth by pro-family activists and denied by Israel's Welfare Ministry is that Israel's rate of removing children from their homes is among the highest in the world. Another claim concerns the Ministry's use of so-called Contact Centers. There are almost 70 of these throughout Israel, and they mostly serve as places where children of divorce are allowed to come in contact with their non-custodial parents – who tend to be fathers – under strict supervision, usually for one hour per week.

According to statistics included in a lawsuit filed against the Israeli government in the United States by a group of divorced fathers, Israel sends children of divorce to see their parents at such Contact Centers rather than a natural environment at a rate that is at least ten times higher than the rate in the United States. A similar claim was presented to then-welfare minister Moshe Kahlon during the 18th Knesset. Kahlon did not deny the statistic.

How many Jewish couples divorce?

Again, the statistics are hard to pin down, and highly politicized. Yossi Billig-Peleg, a philanthropist, paid Ariel University to carry out a survey on this question, a few years ago. The survey found that 40% of couples divorce within the first 10 years of marriage – an alarming statistic, when one considers that the rate of divorce in the 1970s was around 10%. 

Billig-Peleg asked a religious MK, who headed the Committee for Advancement of Women's Status at the time, to hold a session of the committee to discuss the statistics, but it was never held. Genderists may see high divorce rates as a price society – children included – has to pay for women's liberation.

In the last Knesset, a bill called the "Parents and their Children Law" was submitted by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni, based on the conclusions of a Welfare Ministry committee dominated by representatives of the Children's Rights movement. The Children's Rights movement, which has power bases in the UN and the EU, is a neo-Marxist movement that seeks to abolish parental authority. When you seek to undo “Respect your father and your mother,” you don't tell people that is what you are doing. You tell them that you care about children's rights.

The bill called for disputes between parents and children to be solved without coercive discipline, and through mediation, if necessary.

It enumerated what it described as the basic rights of children, including among them, “their preparation for a life of responsibility in a free society, in a spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of the sexes and friendship between all nations, ethnic, national and religious groups.”

This clause would have empowered courts to intervene in the education of children who are raised in homes that are too nationalistic or religious for their taste. The revolutionary bill would also take away the legal custodianship over their children from Israeli parents and replace it with mere “parental responsibility,” which includes duties, but no rights.

It would enable the court to take even these limited rights away from a parent if, following a complaint by the child, one of the parents, or a representative of the State, “the court deems that under the existing circumstances, realization of the parental bond is harmful or may cause actual harm to the child” – a foggy formulation that leaves much room for interpretation.

This means that a child will be able to take his mother to court because she tried to discipline him. Communism, anyone?

Supporters of the bill are mostly naïve divorced fathers, who hope that it will enable more egalitarian divorces. This is because there is another section of the bill which annuls the Tender Years Clause that currently automatically prefers women to men in divorce custody disputes, and which – contrary to what its name suggests – applies de facto to children of all ages.

The bill was re-submitted in slightly altered form by Likud's Minister for Gender Equality, Gila Gamliel, in the present Knesset. Arutz Sheva was the only news site that alerted the public to the bill and its dangers, eliciting a somewhat panicked response by Minister Gamliel, who said that she had never meant to take away parents' rights, and that someone had apparently tampered with her bill.

There has been some awakening in religious circles regarding family issues following a plethora of bills put forth during the previous Knesset regarding the rights of same-sex couples, and an as-yet unsuccessful attempt to make the Family Courts the default venue for divorce proceedings. The Jewish Home party has thus far opposed major changes regarding the status of same-sex couples, despite being vilified for it all over the media.

According to the latest statistics, 114,000 Israeli families with children under 17, composing 6% of the total number of families, are defined as “single parent households.” About 91% of these are headed by a woman. In 75% of the "single parent" households, the parent is either divorced or separated. About 16% were never unmarried and the rest are widowed. 

This is the current state of affairs in the Jewish homeland, regarding the family.

Despite all this, Israel's fertility rates are the highest in the OECD, and fertility of Jewish women is climbing, while that of Arab women is dropping. So it seems that while the Jewish family is still strong enough to withstand all of the Left's attacks – much anguish, suffering and injustice could be avoided if Israel finally grows a politically savvy movement that fights for conservative values and mores.

Gil Ronen, formerly the Knesset correspondent for IDF Radio, is a journalist with Arutz Sheva's English site. He is the founder of The Familists (, a lobby for strengthening the Jewish family in Israel. In 1987, he founded Or Adom, an activist group against police brutality, which led to the establishment of the Department for Investigation of Police Officers in the Ministry of Justice.


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