Ayelet Shaked and Avichai Mandelblit
Ayelet Shaked and Avichai Mandelblit Tamar Neuberg, Flash 90

On Sunday, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit put forward a comprehensive new plan to combat polygamy in Israel.

Despite the fact that polygamy is illegal in Israel, over 30,000 Negev Bedouin families are polygamous, creating a situation which harms the family and especially the children.

Bedouin polygamy rates are estimated at approximately 30%, but can reach as high as 50% in illegal Bedouins settlements in the Negev.

Among Druze, polygamy is forbidden religiously as well as legally. Though small numbers of Druze still violate the ban on polygamy, they are subject to sanctions and therefore their numbers are few.

It is alleged that polygamous relationships directly contribute to poverty, family instability, abuse and neglect of children, as well as violence towards women. Strengthening this hypothesis is the fact that over 99% of Bedouin women who arrive at a shelter are in polygamous marriages.

The Israeli public therefore has an invested interest in ensuring polygamy is stopped, once and for all.

The new plan would add civil deterrents and sanctions to the existing criminal ones, and requires each member of the government to apply sections of the plan which fall under his or her jurisdiction.

Included in the plan are a new section on polygamy will be added to the existing Civilian Family Matters curriculum taught in schools, as well as a plan by the Welfare Committee to work to bring the additional wives into the Israeli workforce. The Social Equality Minister will be in charge of advancing a campaign to raise the public's awareness of the matter.

The National Insurance Institute stipends and child support given to "enlarged families," a euphemism for polygamous homes, will be lowered, and the Health Ministry will work to develop a plan addressing the health needs of the additional women and children present in a polygamous marriage.

Currently, the National Insurance Institute pays thousands of NIS to polygamous families, both in welfare and in stipends for the additional wives. Most of this money does not go to the additional and neglected wife and her children, but to the man and the wife he currently lives with.

Unlike the FLDS movement, where all the women and children live in one house, Bedouin men go between the houses - often shacks - of their different wives. The wife may be left for months on end with no means of supporting herself, until the husband one day appears and decides he wants her again.

The Central Bureau of Statistics has been asked to provide detailed and accurate information about exactly how many polygamous marriages exist - including those which are not legally registered - and how many children are in those families. Religious and social organizations and offices, as well as academics, will also be involved.

Polygamous men will no longer be allowed to work in state or government offices. In addition, claiming the first or second wife agreed to the polygamous marriage will no longer be sufficient to prevent a man from going to jail. The new jail term for polygamous men will be five years imprisonment, as long as there is sufficient evidence of a polygamous lifestyle. This will apply even if the marriage is unofficial and was never registered.

Punishment will be more severe if the additional wife is significantly younger than the husband, or if she was not absolutely certain she wanted to marry him. It will also be more severe for those who were not previously polygamous.

Police and district attorneys will need to cooperate with relevant authorities to find and apprehend polygamous men.