IAF plane with Israeli survivors of Nepal quake lands at military base..
(photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
The heartrending tragedy caused by the Nepalese earthquake last Saturday has turned the spotlight indirectly on a very Israeli predicament. It’s a legal difficulty that keeps sending numerous Israelis to seek viable recourse in far-off Kathmandu for lack of other likely alternatives.
The problem – encountered chiefly but not exclusively by gay men – is the inability to bring children into the world via surrogate mothers here.
Jewish tradition, which commands us to “be fruitful and multiply,” makes our society certainly one of the most child-centered anywhere. Scientifically and medically we are at the global vanguard on fertility treatments and state-of-the-art means of facilitating conception. Israel has become a veritable Mecca for infertile couples, including from the surrounding non-too-friendly region.
Yet confoundedly, while Israel excels at the science, its legal and religious establishments have failed to catch up with changes that can no longer be swept under the national rug.
Surrogacy is a case in point. It is available in Israel but only to specific categories of married couples – and that, too, is entwined with strictures and regulations. Single would-be parents or same-sex couples stand no chance.
The problem is greatest for homosexual men.
Nothing bars them from making surrogacy arrangements abroad, though. Yet unless they are fortuitously wealthy, paying for surrogacy in America and Europe is essentially prohibitive. This leaves the third world as a feasible option.
For years Israelis headed to India, until it began encumbering the exit of the babies with extensive constraints.
Gradually, Nepal began to attract Israelis in search of surrogate mothers.
When the earthquake struck, 26 infants and their Israeli fathers were trapped without shelter, heat, incubators (in some cases), baby formula or sanitary facilities. Heavily expectant mothers were also left without protection or provisions.
Our authorities deserve full praise for rising to the humanitarian challenge and dropping all the bureaucratic demands that normally delay the admittance of the babies to Israel. To be sure, not all these impediments are locally manufactured. Understandably, the Nepalese require the mother’s consent to the child’s departure, as well as a paternity test to prove its biological relationship to the presumed father. This is mandatory to prevent the stealing of, or trade in, other people’s offspring.
But the injustice here arises not from officialdom’s rules but from the very fact that Israelis are forced to travel abroad in order to avail themselves of the right to parenthood. This should tug hard at the heartstrings of anyone who ever wanted to be a parent – male or female, straight or gay.
The right to parenthood should be self-evident, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, inclinations or lifestyle. The desire of Israeli men to father their own biological children shouldn’t be predicated on anyone’s say-so. It certainly shouldn’t be obstructed by questionable, arbitrary rulings.
There should be no place for legal hostility to anyone’s desire to be a parent. Are checks mandated to establish whether all heterosexual couples would make suitable parents? The logic against legal hindrances can be taken to extremes, and perhaps it should be. Aren’t even killers entitled to parenthood? Aren’t conjugal visits allowed even the most heinous imprisoned felons, even terrorists? Israel is a country in which immigration visas are granted even to non-Jewish grandchildren of a Jewish grandparent and to the grandchildren’s own non-Jewish descendants, all on the strength of even a tenuous genealogical tie. Is it reasonable that the right to fatherhood of native Israelis be obstructed? Israelis further lobby and demonstrate on behalf of children of illegal economic migrants, who may be subject (along with their families) to deportation orders. Why, then, should bona fide Israelis be restricted in their attempts to bring children into the world? Anyone is free personally to evaluate the issue from a religious perspective. But the state must be guided by nothing but the precept of equality under the law. Equality means that prospective parents be treated with identical impartiality and fairness.
Anything else constitutes a violation of the basic rights of Israelis whose wish to raise their own biological children is stymied by prejudicial criteria.