Israel has promised Russia not to allow same-sex couples to adopt Russian children, Haaretz has learned.
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Russia is the main destination for Israelis seeking international adoption, but the country doesn’t recognize same-sex couples and prohibits them from adopting.
In recent years, representatives of the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry have signed letters that were submitted to Russian courts, promising to respect Russia’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples. The letters were written at the request of Israel’s private government-licensed adoption agencies which were concerned that the Russian channel could be closed to all adoptive parents.
According to data from the social affairs ministry, Russia was the only country from which Israelis adopted children — a total of 34 — in 2015. Over the past few years there has been a sharp drop in the number of children adopted by Israelis from other countries. In 2007, 219 children were adopted from six countries – half from Russia, and the rest from Ukraine, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Moldova. The drop in the number of foreign adoptions has stemmed in part from Russian restrictions on adoption by same-sex couples or single people, which went into effect in 2014.
In February 2014, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed regulations banning the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples or by single people from countries that permit same-sex marriage. The regulation was aimed at preventing situations in which individuals in same-sex relationships would present themselves as single in order to adopt. As a result, single people from France, Spain and Canada can no longer adopt children from Russia. Singles from the United States, where many states recognize same-sex marriage, had been blocked from adopting Russian children a year earlier.
After the regulation went into effect, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a list of countries that permit same-sex marriage and included Israel on the list by mistake. When Israel made it clear that it does not permit same-sex marriage, it was removed from the list. But over the past few years, the two countries have exchanged documents and draft agreements regarding inter-country adoptions, and representatives of the Justice Ministry, Social Affairs Ministry and the Foreign Ministry have met several times with senior Russian officials, who sought to make sure that only heterosexual Israeli couples adopt Russian children. The Israeli representatives agreed to respect their request.
Because of this commitment to Russia, Israel has even refused to allow two women, who had adopted girls from Russia separately before the regulation went into effect, to adopt each other’s daughters. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit warned that if their request were accepted, Russia was liable to categorically forbid the adoption of Russian children by all Israelis, irrespective of their sexual preferences.
Israeli same-sex couples and singles have few avenues for adoption. They cannot adopt children from other countries, and have a difficult time doing so in Israel as well. A report by the Social Affairs Ministry revealed that over the years the state has allowed only two homosexual couples and one lesbian couple to adopt, even though such adoptions were permitted by the attorney general a decade ago. During that period some 1,700 heterosexual couples have adopted. Lacking an adoption option, same-sex couples have been increasingly having children using surrogates abroad.
Israeli law has permitted adoptions from other countries since 1998, but solely through a recognized agency that has a permit from the Justice and Social Affairs ministries. Such agencies are allowed to charge 22,000 euros (about $25,000). The adopting couple must also pay for their own flights and lodging, as well as the expenses of an accompanying doctor (who examines the child).
Whereas there were once some 20 agencies in Israel licensed to facilitate international adoption, today there are only two: Taf, which is authorized to handle adoptions from Russia, and Atid Hayeladim, which operates in Russia, Serbia and Kazakhstan. It is illegal for Israelis to adopt children from any other countries.
The Social Affairs Ministry website says nothing about same-sex couples being banned from adopting children from overseas. The site lists other circumstances under which an international adoption request will be turned down: “If you are not yet 25 years old; if you’ve been together less than three years; if you haven’t lived in Israel during three of the last five years or at least 12 months of the 18 months before submitting the adoption request to the association; if you’ve been convicted of a crime against minors, a sex crime or a violent crime.” It also states that the parents can be no more than 48 years older than the child.
Ida Harari, director of the adoption agency Atid Hayeladim, said she cannot help same-sex couples or singles who want to adopt. “We get our children from the Russian Federation, and since they decide to whom they want to give the children, there’s nothing we can do. They make the rules.”
She added that only in a few cases has she been asked to supply proof to Russian authorities indicating that the adoptive parents are heterosexual. “But we very much respect their demands. We wouldn’t dare grossly violate their law.”
Many countries, Harari noted, have refused to allow Israelis to adopt their children and she doesn’t want to put the Russian channel at risk. “We are grateful that they give us their children because there are so many countries that have refused us. Right now we are committed solely to conventional families. I know a lot of single mothers who are not in a same-sex relationship who had previously adopted a child and want to expand their families so their child won’t be an only child, but they can’t,” said Harari.
Recently there have been preliminary contacts to enable Israelis to adopt children from Colombia, Harari noted. “On the sensitive issue of same-sex couples and singles, I have been told that Colombia hasn’t made such adoptions illegal. They recognize that they can give a child a better future, and love can also come from a single person or a same-sex family. But we are at the early stages of this; we must find a suitable representative there and see how to move forward.”