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Welfare Ministry calls for legislation to fight cults
ByRUTH EGLASH
May 24, 2011 07:48
Authors of special report dealt with recent fallout from Goel Ratzon, who had 17 wives and 39 children.
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The government must create comprehensive legislation to combat the phenomenon of cults in Israel and provide a clearer definition of what constitutes cult activity, a report published Monday by a special Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs task force has recommended.

Authored by the team of professionals that dealt with the fallout of Israel’s largest cult to date – that headed by Tel Aviv polygamist Goel Ratzon – the 48-page report focuses on four main areas: preventive action, therapeutic intervention, legislation and government involvement.

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In its conclusion, the report calls for the government to formulate legislation that would curtail the activities of these groups, create a clearer definition as to what is a cult, and provide guidelines for all relevant government ministries to pool resources and work together.

“The subject of cults is a complex issue,” commented Minister of Welfare and Social Affairs Moshe Kahlon in a statement. “This phenomenon is indeed marginal, but its effects are far-reaching: It affects families, adults and children.”

The creation of the task force followed the January 2010 raid on Ratzon’s compound by police and welfare officials after a six-month undercover operation that gathered enough evidence to charge the 60-year-old with rape and incest. Since then, a special Welfare Ministry unit has been tasked not only with providing rehabilitative treatment for the cult leader’s 17 wives and 39 children, but also with creating a comprehensive program and recommendations for national policy to tackle between 80-100 other cult groups operating here.

A spokeswoman for the Welfare Ministry said the report was the first comprehensive look into how Israel should deal with its cults, and that the task force looked at a wide range of sources from around the world. Currently, no legislation exists to prevent cult activity here, although polygamy is illegal.

The authors recommend defining a cult as a group that converges around one person or idea and adopts thoughtand behavior-controlling methods. Cults, they said, encourage emotional dependency, loyalty, obedience and subordination to the leader. The leader is a person who takes advantage of the members to promote the cult’s goals and causes emotional damage and physical, economic and social detachment from other members of the cult, their relatives and the surrounding community.

In addition to creating legislation and defining cult activity in Israel, the report also recommends increasing public awareness of the phenomenon and even holding workshops for teens so they understand the dangers of becoming involved.

Its recommendations also include the creation of a national body that will immediately intervene with cult activities, and the establishment of a national hotline for the public to report on such groups. The National Insurance Institute should also be involved in providing rehabilitative services and financial aid to those able to free themselves from cult activity.

As well as its recommendations, the research also provided detailed guidelines for social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, educational professionals and other professionals who might find themselves working with former cult members.

The guidelines divide the process into two parts: focusing on preventing vulnerable individuals from joining cults or curtailing their involvement in the early stages before they are too drawn in, and rehabilitative assistance and therapy for those who have fled or been rescued from these groups.

Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs director general Nachum Itzkovitz said that for victims of cult activities and their families it is a “deeply rooted crisis that requires the involvement of the government and Israeli society to help tackle this phenomenon and find ways to provide the correct assistance and preventive aspect.”
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