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Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's decision to adopt a public panel's recommendation to eliminate the presumption that children up to age 6 should be in the custody of their mothers in divorce cases has sparked an angry response from women's organizations. The groups vowed to fight Neeman's decision and said implementation of the panel's proposal would only inflict harm on young children of divorce. Other public figures, however, welcomed the recommendations.

Irit Gazit, the director of the legal services program at WIZO, the Women's International Zionist Organization, predicted that if implemented, the recommendations by the Shnit committee would only cause custody disputes to be dragged out in court "on the backs of the children," but would fail to lead to genuine equality between the parents. "The dangers and disadvantages are immeasurably greater than the advantages," she said.

The Na'amat women's organization had a representative on the Shnit panel who differed with the recommendations that won the support of the majority of committee members. Na'amat chairwoman Talia Livni did find what she called a "point of light" in the panel's suggestions in that they would transform visitation of the child by the father from a right to an obligation.

Na'amat has seen many cases in which fathers push for expanded visitation rights and reduced alimony payments only to find that in practice, the father does not abide by the agreement and does not come to see his children, Livni said.

Daphna Hacker, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, said she resigned as a member of the Shnit committee when she saw that the panel's recommendations would not be in keeping with her views. She said even if custody of a child is split during the course of the week between the father and mother, "there will still be one parent [the mother] who will bear most of the load, only from now on there will be no recognition of this fact."

For her part, however, MK Yulia Shamalov Berkovich (Kadima ), who initiated legislation to adopt the Shnit committee's recommendations, called the panel's proposal a "giant step for the children of Israel, who will finally get two parents."

She also called it an important step in the promotion of gender equality.