‘Feminist terror’ – MK battles ‘systemic bias’ against men in Israeli family courts

Freshman MK Tali Gottlieb says that ‘men have no chance’ in Israeli family courts, seeks to end ‘categorical discrimination’ against fathers during divorce proceedings.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Freshman MK Tali Gottlieb (Likud) has kicked off her legislative career with a number of impassioned speeches in the Knesset calling for major reforms to the family court system, which she says is inherently biased against men.

“I will not lend a hand to feminist terror… which categorically discriminates against men and fathers’ rights,” Gottlieb said in a Knesset speech last week.

The remarks came after Gottlieb clashed with a Yesh Atid MK, who called her an “embarrassment to women” due to her views that the family court unfairly favors mothers.

Israeli fathers “are paying a tremendous price in the divorce process, their rights are being taken away, and it’s hurting Israeli children,” Gottlieb said.

“Feminist terror doesn’t affect me and it won’t stop me from working for Israeli citizens,” she added, before leaving the plenum.

Gottlieb, an attorney, is an outspoken activist for fathers’ rights and has said the state and judicial system are enabling parental alienation, a phenomenon in which divorced fathers lose contact with their children due to their ex-wives’ refusal to allow them to visit or speak with them.

What is parental alienation?

According to Gottlieb and fathers’ rights advocacy groups in Israel, parental alienation is a widespread issue in the country. It primarily affects men, as women are almost always awarded primary custody of children after a divorce.

Parental alienation cases often see the custodial parent brainwash the children into not wanting a relationship with the other parent, continually bad-mouthing the parent and making the child feel guilty for remaining in contact.

While statistics regarding the number of divorced fathers who do not have contact with their children are difficult to find, single-parent families account for some 13% of all families with children in Israel, according to the Center for Political Economics. About 90% (roughly 153,000 out of 170,000 single-parent households) are headed by women.

Based on those numbers, it’s safe to assume that there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of men who do not have physical custody of their children and rarely, or never, have contact with them. An anti-parental alienation activist told Ynet in 2019 that as many as 30,000 Israeli children are not in contact with one of their parents.

A 2020 study by the Knesset’s Information and Research Center found a staggering 2,000% increase in family court cases referencing parental alienation in the last decade, which suggests that the phenomenon has exploded in recent years.

‘Men have no chance’

Gottlieb told the Knesset that divorce is a “nightmare” for couples but stressed that “children are the most important part of this process and that we owe them equal co-parenting and equal rights to fathers and mothers.”

She referenced the recent suicide of a divorced Israeli man who hung himself from a public overpass in late January. He was reportedly denied contact with his children for several years.

The lack of media attention or public outcry regarding the tragedy, she said, underscores a lack of seriousness on the part of the state and its systems to stop parental alienation.

Gottlieb herself is divorced and says that the legal system is systematically biased in favor of women when it comes to the distribution of financial assets and child custody. It provides little recourse for men who want to maintain contact with their children, she added.

“If I had let jealousy, hatred and my ugliest feelings lead me through the divorce proceedings, I could have left my ex-husband with nothing. Why? Because under the auspices of Israeli law, [men] have no chance in divorce proceedings,” Gottlieb said in a late January speech to the Knesset.

“The dignity of fathers in Israel cannot be trampled on just because they are men,” she said.

In December 2022, Gottlieb hosted a Knesset hearing on parental alienation. A host of experts testified regarding the detrimental effects of the phenomenon on children, including lower rates of educational attainment, less successful careers, lower lifetime earnings, and a higher likelihood of criminal behavior.

‘The risk is too high’

Enzo (a pseudonym) is a men’s rights activist and member of Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), a movement that originally started in the early 2000s in male-focused forums, websites, and blogs based in the U.S. The MGTOW movement encourages men to avoid marriage and long-term relationships with women in Western countries, arguing that court bias favoring mothers is likely to leave men financially ruined and isolated from their children.

MGTOW quickly spread to other parts of the world, including Israel. There are a number of Hebrew-language Facebook groups, Telegram channels, Twitter channels and sites dedicated to the movement.

Enzo claims that MGTOW is especially relevant for Israelis, due to what he charges are discriminatory court practices that target men. He agrees with Gottlieb’s assessment that Israeli family courts are categorically prejudiced in favor of women.

“Jewish marital law in Israel is especially brutal for men. Child support payments are among the highest in the world – in absolute terms,” Enzo, a divorced father, told World Israel News.

“Child support in Israel is comparable to that in Switzerland for example, but the average wages are far lower. Divorce for a man with an average income or below, with two or more children, spells abject poverty for the man.”

Enzo said that “exorbitant child support laid on fathers” and alienation from their children leads to a situation in which “men are left in utter ruin and despair. In desperation, an alarming number of divorced fathers commit suicide” each year, he said.

According to Israel’s Health Ministry, divorced men are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their married counterparts.

A 1981 amendment to Israel’s child support law, which states that both mothers and fathers must pay child support, is widely ignored by family court judges, Enzo told WIN.

Fathers are treated by courts as “walking ATMs” who are wholly responsible for financial support for their children, Enzo said, regardless of the mother’s financial status or whether the parents share joint custody of the minors.

“The courts also discriminate against the right of fathers to be fathers,” said Enzo. “Fathers must often fight a lengthy and costly uphill battle to ‘prove’ they are worthy of more than minimal visitation rights.”

He noted that family court hearings in Israel are not open to the public, which authorities say is due to privacy concerns. Transcripts of proceedings are only available with the approval of the judge presiding over the case.

Under current standards, judges may refuse to release a transcript of proceedings – with no need to provide an explanation for why they are withholding the record. This lack of transparency leads to situations in which judges can rule contrary to the law without having to justify or explain their decisions.

When it comes to reforms to the family court system that would shift the body to being fairer towards men, Enzo said that making transcripts of hearings public is essential. Families’ privacy can “easily be protected by simply blacking-out identifying details,” he explained.

“We need to open the closed-door hearings of family law and have judges held accountable for their own rulings. As the Hebrew saying goes — the best disinfectant is sunlight.”

Enzo said he is optimistic that the reforms to the legal system proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin could help “restore balance” to the family courts.

Currently, because judicial authorities have a monopoly over who is appointed to serve as a family court judge, candidates who do not subscribe to the dominant orthodoxy of the current appointment panel are rejected, Enzo said.

A reform that would change the composition of committees could lead to the appointment of new family court judges with different perspectives on family law, he explained.

“Breaking the judicial authorities’ control over the committee is likely to result in a more balanced and pluralistic composition of judges being nominated, judges who would also be more independent in their rulings,” Enzo said.

He hopes that Levin’s legal reforms would mean that “we will begin to see more balanced courts norms and a more balanced body of precedent-setting rulings.”