Israel Defends Decision to Comply With Russian Ban of Adoption by Same-sex Couples

LGBT task force calls Israeli move 'surrender to homophobic thuggery of Russian government'

Boys do their lessons at an orphanage in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, Russia, May 17, 2017.
ILYA NAYMUSHIN/REUTERS

Israel’s Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry said it was unfortunate that adoptions of children from Russia "are not open to all families," following a Haaretz report Monday about an Israeli government commitment to comply with a Russian demand not to allow same-sex couples to adopt children in Russia.

Nevertheless, the ministry added, when it comes to international adoptions, Israel is bound by the 1993 Hague convention to respect the laws of the country from which the children are being adopted.

As a result, the ministry continued, Israel has had to agree to limitations on which Israelis are able to adopt so that adoptions from Russia can continue. An Israeli refusal to consent to the Russian demand, the ministry said, would have led to a halt in adoptions of Russian children by any Israelis.

On a global basis, the ministry said, there has been a drop in the number of international adoptions after many countries decided to cut off adoptions by prospective candidates from any other country, not only Israel. Russia has been the primary country from which Israelis have adopted children in recent years, ministry data show.

The Israeli LGBT task force, known as the Aguda, denounced the move, and in reference to Gay Pride Week this week and Friday’s Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv, the organization said: “In the midst of pride events, the social affairs and justice ministries are choosing to surrender to the homophobic thuggery of the Russian government as they humiliate and trample the honor of Israeli LGBT citizens.” The Aguda added that it wondered how the Israeli government would have reacted to a similar agreement barring adoptions by Jewish couples from other countries around the world.

On Monday, Haaretz disclosed the Israeli commitment to prevent single-sex couples from adopting children in Russia even after the children arrive in Israel. At the request of Israel’s international adoptions agencies, representatives from the social affairs and justice ministries in recent years have also signed letters submitted to Russian courts committing to comply with Russian law barring adoption by single-sex couples.

Knesset caucus: 'Outrageous'

Following the disclosure of the understanding between Israel and Russia, the Knesset caucus in support of the LGBT community announced plans to convene a special Knesset session later this month on the matter.

“This situation is outrageous and creates clear discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity, beyond the fact that this commitment by the Israeli government reflects quiet consent of sorts to the persecution that exists toward the gay community in Russia.” This, the leaders of the LGBT Knesset caucus, Merav Ben Ari, Yael German, Michal Rozin and Merav Michaeli, wrote in a statement addressed to the minister of social affairs, Haim Katz, and to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

The caucus' statement also asserted that the Israeli understanding with Russia contradicts a 2008 directive from the Israeli attorney general at the time, Menachem Mazuz, requiring that single-sex couples be allowed to adopt. As reported recently in Haaretz, since then only three single-sex couples have adopted Israeli children in Israel, compared to about 1,700 heterosexual couples.

“As of now, members of the LGBT community in the State of Israel do not have the proper opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to become parents through adoption,” the Knesset caucus statement said.

Irit Rosenblum, director of the family rights advocacy group New Family, also objected to Israel’s agreement with Russia, saying it would have been better not to have adoptions from Russia at all.

In an unusual case, the Israeli government is objecting to two women, each of whom adopted a girl in Russia when its old policy was still in effect, being allowed to adopt each other's daughters. The two women submitted a joint request to adopt one another’s daughters, but the case is complicated by the couple's subsequent separation and by the objection by one of them to the adoption.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has warned that if the petition for adoption is granted, Russia might bar the adoption by any Israelis of Russian children, without consideration of their sexual orientation. Iris Sheinfeld, a lawyer representing the woman seeking to have the adoption proceed, expressed doubt that Israel’s agreement with Russia on adoptions by single-sex couples would stand up to constitutional legal scrutiny in Israel. “What needs to guide the State of Israel on this subject is solely the principle of the interests of the child,” she said.

Elinor Leibovitz, the opposing counsel in Sheinfeld’s case, who represents the woman opposing the adoptions, said the adoptions are not in the children’s interest, and that instead each woman should be responsible for her own child.