Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting.
(photo credit: YOAV DAVIDKOVITZ / POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Monday that he would not tolerate any polygamy in the State of Israel.
“I will not accept any situation of polygamy in the State of Israel – this is my directive to the ministerial committee that is dealing with the issue,” Netanyahu tweeted on Monday afternoon.
“It harms the status of women, it exploits women and it also undermines the demographic balance of Israel by importing women. This is unacceptable to me.”
The prime minister added that in addition to “strengthening the weaker sectors of the Bedouin sector, there must be strong enforcement of the issue.”
Netanyahu’s comments came a week after an interministerial report
on the issue was released, and on the same day that the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality met to discuss it.
The report, which was compiled by Justice Ministry director-general Emi Palmor, advocated tougher enforcement of the country’s anti-polygamy laws. But it also endorsed permitting Israel-based Sharia Courts to register marriages for a man with up to two women under specific circumstances.
On Monday, the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women registered criticism of the report’s suggestion to allow limited recognition of such marriages – like in cases where the first wife cannot have children or is very sick.
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Aida Touma-Sliman, a Joint List MK and chairwoman of the committee, said the report was positive overall, but she could not support it because of the legitimization of some polygamous cases.
“I will request the ministerial committee not support the report in its current format,” Touma-Sliman said.
In response to much of the criticism surrounding the report, Palmor said Monday that there is no quick fix, but the plan of action intends to target 95% of polygamous cases in Israel.
“The government has begun enforcement on the issue, and polygamous men who have not taken responsibility for their families will think twice before marrying another woman,” Palmor said.
According to the report, there are 6,200 polygamous marriages in Israel, representing 18.5% of families in the approximately 250,000-person Bedouin sector. It also noted that 14% of Bedouin women over age 15 are officially recognized as single with children – meaning they are second wives but not registered as such. Joint List MK Taleb Abu Arar, who lives in the Bedouin town of Ar’ara BaNegev (formerly Aroer), is himself married to two women.
Since the beginning of 2017, the attorney-general has issued 12 criminal indictments against polygamous men, according to the report.
Attorney Dr. Rawia Aburabia, a post-doctoral fellow at the Hebrew University, said the law should also be enforced against the people who officiate at these weddings. She added that legitimizing even a small number of polygamous weddings is a dangerous idea.
“These permits for polygamous marriages in some cases opens the door to a norm in which polygamy is permitted,” she said. “Don’t fix injustice with injustice.”Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.
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