Report: Bedouin polygamy fraud costing Israeli taxpayers millions

Study finds fraudulent marriages involving multiple wives have scammed at least 30 million shekels in benefit payments.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s National Insurance Institute last year paid out 30 million shekels ($9 million) in payments to mothers who claimed they were single but were really members of polygamous families in the Bedouin community, Channel 20 news reported Wednesday.

Marriage to more than one woman (polygamy) is prohibited under Israeli law, but it still practiced on a large scale in the Bedouin sector in the Negev area despite government efforts to outlaw the practice.

A 2018 study by the Regavim organization found that there were 6,200 polygamous marriages in the Bedouin sector. Regavim called on women’s rights groups to take action.

“Polygamy harms the most vulnerable members of Bedouin society, causing poverty and neglect of women and children,” Regavim said in a statement posted on their website. “It also has a far-reaching impact on Israel’s economy, as it is funded and driven almost entirely by National Insurance Institute stipends and benefits.”

Several studies have revealed that a man will register a single marriage but off the record get married to several other women who remain registered with tax authorities as single or divorced mothers eligible for income supplements from the NII.

“Polygamy allows entitlement to various benefits under the law, benefits that can create a significant incentive for a polygamous lifestyle – for example income support for a family unit with more than two spouses,” a previous study by the Ministry of Justice said. “The economic incentives that accompany a polygamous lifestyle can also include receiving a pension to ensure income for each additional woman.”

According to the Regavim study, many Bedouin in Israel’s Negev area marry Palestinian women from the Hebron area and Gaza, resulting in some 40,000-60,000 Palestinian women and their children living in the Negev in 2015. Regavim noted a polygamy rate of some 35%, where in polygamous households some 70% of the women are Palestinian.

An inter-ministerial team in 2018 found that government records often did not reflect the true personal status in polygamous marriages and failed to register the additional wives. This allowed the men to not only flout the polygamy law, but illegally receive increased allowances given to single mothers.

The Ministry of Justice and the police force both issued statements outlining the legal hurdles they have to overcome to prosecute polygamists. The ministry now has a dedicated team that has significantly improved cooperation between the enforcement bodies.

The NII said it is using “all means at its disposal to deal with fictitious reports submitted to social security while hiding the phenomenon of polygamy, which mainly affects women and children.” The social services body said  investigations “are very complex,” but it has so far forwarded 130 reports to police for investigation.