Divorce (illustration)
Divorce (illustration)Thinkstock

Social workers and family courts in Israel annually force thousands of children of divorcing parents to see their noncustodial parents – the overwhelming majority of whom are fathers – only in state-run “contact centers,” under humiliating and emotionally painful conditions. The proportion of families of divorce in which this happens is somewhere between 15% and 33%, depending on whom you ask.

By comparison, only 1%-2% of divorcing families in the US are sent to contact centers for visitation.

The shocking statistics were reported in an exposé by Michal Yaakov-Yitzhaki and Naama Lansky in the cover story of the weekend supplement of Yisrael Hayom.

According to Welfare Ministry statistics for 2012, 1,725 out of 11,500 reports filed by social workers in divorce cases recommended that the children be made to see their noncustodial parent under supervision for one or two hours per week at a contact center. This number constitutes 15% of the reports, but according to the Coalition for Children and the Family, there are only about 6,000 divorcing families with children for which the social workers issue (sometimes multiple) reports annually, and this means that 25% or even 33% of all divorcing families are referred to contact centers.

Israel has 64 contact centers which receive a budget of about 4.5 million shekels ($1.3 billion). The centers served a total of 2,540 families in 2012, with almost 4,100 children seeing at least one of their parents in this way. The number of families sent to the centers is steadily rising: it climbed by 43% between 2004 and 2012. The contact centers' budget nearly doubled in this period.

The investigative report quotes a social worker who says that fathers are “automatically” sent to see their children at contact centers if the mothers insist on it.

A typical visit takes place in a sparsely furnished room with a closed circuit camera on the wall recording its entire duration. There is also a loudspeaker through which a social worker may give instructions to the parent and children. Parents are forced to sign a commitment not to whisper to their children and not to involve them in the conflict with the other parent by subjecting them to questioning. In addition, the parents may not take photographs or videotape the sessions without permission from the center's staff.

The staff has absolute authority to end a visit if it deems that certain unspecified “behavior” makes this necessary. A mother who sees her child in a contact center is quoted as saying that the social worker even intervenes if she says “I love you, my sweet,” to her son. Many parents feel that the conditions at the contact centers are so traumatic for their children that they prefer not to see their children at all, in order to spare them this terrible experience. As a result, write Yaakov-Yitzhaki and Lansky, “the contact centers become disconnection centers.”

According to The Familists, an NGO that advocates for pro-family policies, the extraordinarily high rate of referrals to supervised visitation in Israel – a rate 10 to 12 times higher than in the US – reflects a “neo-Marxist” family policy. “This means that the state, in cooperation with women's organizations, encourages divorce and facilitates the pushing out of fathers from their children's lives. The resultant weakened families are highly dependent for their survival on the state's agencies and on the benefits arranged by women's groups, which thus gain political prowess,” explained the NGO.

The trend toward anti-family policies began in the late 1980s, with the establishment of  the Israel's Women's Network – Shdulat Hanashim, or 'The Women's Lobby' in Hebrew – by the New Israel Fund, and the subsequent establishment of the Knesset's Committee for the Advancement of Women by then-MK Naomi Chazan (Meretz) in 1992, The Familists claimed. The committee "became a power base for genderist policy and legislation, which is directed to this day by the Israel Women's Network. Chazan is also a dominant figure in the New Israel Fund and served as its president for many years," said the group.