Israeli Bedouin
Israeli Bedouin Hadas Parush/Flash90

Authorities in southern Israel indicted a Bedouin man accused of polygamy on Monday, the first such indictment since the state declared it would crack down on polygamy in the Bedouin community.

While polygamy is illegal in Israel, the practice is common among members of the more than 200,000-strong Israeli Bedouin community. Since Israel formally banned polygamy in 1977, the practice all but disappeared outside of the Arab sector.

Yet authorities largely avoided enforcing the law on Israeli Bedouin, turning a blind eye to the phenomenon. Some state institutions, including the National Insurance Institute (Bituah Leumi), even give de facto recognition to such arrangements, allowing women applying for benefits to list their family status as members of “enlarged families”.

According to a 2013 Knesset report, some 30% of families in the Bedouin sector are polygamous, while other estimates place the figure as high as 35%.

In 2015, however, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein pushed for enforcement of the anti-polygamy law, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Under new guidelines for law enforcement agencies drawn up in 2016 and put in place this January, authorities have begun investigating cases of polygamy, leading to the first indictment since the new policy was implemented.

On Monday, the 36-year-old Bedouin man was indicted in the Beer Sheva Magistrate’s Court after taking a second wife.

Aside from Monday’s indictment, police have opened cases into 178 other instances of alleged polygamy since the new guidelines were put in place, Yediot Ahronot reported.