Stolen lives

The commission’s concluding in 2001 that there was no evidence of conspiracy defies both logic and common sense.

Zvi Amiri was taken from his parents as a newborn and adopted by a Ashkenazi family (photo credit: RA’ANAN COHEN)
Zvi Amiri was taken from his parents as a newborn and adopted by a Ashkenazi family
(photo credit: RA’ANAN COHEN)
‘It is inconceivable that Jews hurt other Jews so terribly,” Zvi Amiri was quoted as saying in last week’s Jerusalem Post Magazine on how he discovered at the age of 29 that his birth mother, a Tunisian immigrant, had been told in 1948 that he had died at birth, and that his kibbutz parents had adopted him.
The trauma Amiri relates is unfortunately not unique and has been the subject of recurrent controversy for decades. Several inconclusive state commissions of inquiry into the horrific practice presented “findings” that babies – the numbers cited ranged from several thousand to “just” a few hundred – were abducted from their mothers after birth and delivered for adoption by childless Israeli couples, invariably Ashkenazi and often Holocaust survivors.
The latest attempt to uncover the truth about this terrible practice – which continued into the 1950s – has exposed the newly founded State of Israel to charges of racism. Last month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Minister-without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi to head another investigation. He began by acknowledging that “hundreds” of babies had been stolen from their mothers, but this is likely another “guesstimate.”
This is not an auspicious beginning to another in a series of inquiries that have bordered on the farcical, if not actually part of a decades-long cover-up of a sinister conspiracy.
The first parliamentary inquiry, established in 1967, concluded that most of the infants in question had actually died – and that only four had been adopted. In 1988 the Shalgi Commission began probing the matter, and it reached a similar conclusion in 1994. A third commission found in 2001 that there was no evidence of a conspiracy.
With the advent of social media, however, more and more families are coming forward, aided by new activist groups, to bring the truth into the open. The growing number of men and women, now in their 60s, who have overcome bureaucratic stonewalling and become reunited with their surviving birth parents has set the bar much higher.
But while a more accurate number of stolen babies is likely to emerge from a combination of citizens’ activism and yet another inquiry, it shouldn’t take a commission to answer some basic questions about the phenomenon.
For one thing, even if “only” a few hundred babies were stolen and placed in adoption, for whatever reason, this was by definition a conspiracy. While the practice has often been referred to as the theft of Yemenite babies, Amiri related that other immigrant groups were involved.
“There are five other guys who study with me at my yeshiva who have similar stories, and only one of them is Yemenite,” he told the Post.
Many hospitals were involved in the conspiracy, which depended on the collusion of their maternity wards’ entire staff: The nurses knew, the doctors knew, and an adoption agency placed the stolen babies.
When a young immigrant mother was told that her baby had died soon after birth, she was left bereaved, without seeing the deceased newborn or given the option of burying the child. Amiri’s mother, Hanna, could not accept the truth of the loss and suffered a breakdown, spending years in and out of mental hospitals.
In searching for his biological parents, Amiri discovered his adoption documents, which included a newspaper clipping seeking information about missing children, one of whom bore his birth name, Biton. “I immediately realized that the adoption had been a bluff, since they’d been aware of my original family name and could have contacted them,” said Amiri.
The new state’s best and brightest were involved, for motives that have yet to be revealed. In a famous case that made headlines in 1997, Tzila Levine of Sacramento, California, was reunited with her Yemenite biological mother after searching for two decades led to DNA confirmation.
A Haifa doctor had taken Levine from her mother shortly after her birth in 1949 and handed her to adoptive parents using forged papers. The adoption was approved by future Supreme Court president Moshe Landau.
“It is time for the country to be more open about its past.
We need to drag these issues into the sunlight and see what really happened,” Levine told the Los Angeles Times.
We agree. The commission’s concluding in 2001 that there was no evidence of conspiracy defies both logic and common sense. The fact that this commission sealed all materials relating to its findings for 70 years is nothing less than a blatant statement that it has something to hide.