Self-styled spiritual 'guru' Goel Ratzon. .
(photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
"He is a kind, very gentle man and he did not brainwash me," a wife of suspected Tel Aviv cult leader Goel Ratzon, arrested on the suspicion of enslaving women, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
"[H]e never ever argued with me or got angry with the children," said the woman, who refused to disclose her name or how many children she shared with the polygamist.
"Although he did not live with us 24 hours a day, he made sure that the children had a good upbringing and were well educated," she said.
She was in the Knesset for an emergency hearing of the Committee for the Rights of the Child, headed by Likud MK Danny Danon. Meant to present an update on the welfare and whereabouts of Ratzon's 39 minor children and 17 wives, the meeting came to an abrupt halt when police officials and representatives of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services refused to answer questions.
Walking out of the hearing after only 20 minutes, Menahem Vagashil, the ministry's deputy director-general, said that because the case was still under investigation, vital information could not be disclosed. Officials also expressed dissatisfaction that one of Ratzon's wives and representatives of the media were present at the meeting.
Ratzon, 59, was arrested on January 11 on charges that at least one of the women had been held by him against her will. Together with the Israel Police, social services launched a massive operation to break up what was described as "the biggest cult in Israel," and to take the children and their mothers into protective care.
"I was very surprised on the day they came to my house," Ratzon's wife told the Post
. "But I accepted it and answered their questions for 12 hours."
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Asked how the children are dealing with the massive life change, she said, "They keep asking, 'Where are our brothers and sisters?'
"It is hard for them because we used to be together as a family. Goel would hire a bus and take us on trips around the country. Now the children want to know where their father is. I just tell them that sometimes even good people do bad things and that I am hopeful he will come back."
She also described how Ratzon's wives, some of whom lived together in a shared house, would support one another in day-to-day tasks and how they "were very close."
"I am optimistic about the future," concluded the woman, refusing to say whether she hoped to return to her former life. "Goel is a very kind and gentle person [and] he never got angry with me or the children," she said.
After police and social services officials left Tuesday's meeting, Danon met privately with Goel's wife.
The MK explained to the press that the main goal of the meeting was to find out how the authorities were working together with the children and their mothers.
"We are talking about a lot of children and we want to know what is
happening with [them]," said Danon. "What treatment are they receiving?
Where are they? Who is taking care of them?"
As for the decision of officials to leave the meeting, Danon said:
"This is an open meeting, open to the media, open to the public, and
it's our right to know what is happening with the investigation."
Danon called on the authorities to provide as much assistance as is
needed to Ratzon's wives and to ensure that they receive adequate
financial assistance and housing. He also called on social services to
allow the women contact with one another and even possibly to return
them to a living arrangement that they are used to.
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