Nothing could have prepared me for a visit to the Tel Aviv branch of the Interior Ministry.
A mixture of naivete and ignorance made me think that the ministry in its Tel Aviv version would be infected with some of the city’s liberal spirit and the cosmopolitan atmosphere inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest. I therefore thought that a meeting with a same-sex couple coming to register their children and get ID numbers for the them would be a quick matter, without needing to talk or write about it later.
Waiting for this registration is nerve-wracking. When children born to surrogate mothers in the United States return to Israel, they have no legal status. They have a visa similar to the one tourists have. During this waiting period they are not eligible for any service provided by the state, notably health insurance.
This situation invites an avaricious, flourishing market of private insurers but in our case, even though we wanted to purchase such insurance at an inflated price, we were told we could do so only after a hearing test. The clinic doing this test could only see us in July. This meant a period of four months without seeing a doctor or getting immunized, which endangered our children and anyone coming into contact with them.
No government agency thought to shorten this wait, even when it involved newborns. This was the predicament facing children of rank-and-file Israeli citizens who served in the army, who work here and pay taxes, and who delude themselves that they have equal rights in their country.
When the court gave its anticipated ruling, instructing the Interior Ministry to register these children as Israeli citizens, we hurried to the ministry’s Tel Aviv branch. The clerk looked at the twins and asked, “Which one belongs to whom?” I answered that they were both ours. For this clerk, apparently, children are like any other product, such as a car or purse.
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She took the documents, looked at the apostille – the U.S. verification document – attached to the record of birth and said she didn’t recognize an apostille like that, attached in that manner. We told her that this was the apostille they issue in Houston. She left her desk and called the deputy manager. The deputy manager also said the apostille was attached in a strange manner, making the document unacceptable. The children could not be registered as Israelis. “Go get a new apostille,” she told us.
It won’t help, I told her. The new one will look the same. We showed her the number on that document and asked her to check the apostille’s legal validity. She started yelling at me, “Why are you aggressive? When it’s attached that way it’s not valid here.” Within seconds a security guard showed up, yelling, “What do you want? What are you arguing about? You can’t argue with the law.”
He was wrong; his manager was arguing with the law, for the sake of proving she was in charge. She wouldn’t let the law interfere with her bullying of a pair of three-month-old twins.
The interior minister carefully appointed a layer of officials who are directly subordinate to him, training public servants not to obey the law, thus codifying their status as officials who can supersede court orders. This turned them into the legislators and the judges determining our lives.
In his speech at the United Nations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proudly described how secure gays are in Israel, and compared this to the situation in neighboring countries. Indeed, this is so. Gays in Israel can be secure in knowing that the establishment will deprive them of basic human rights, such as the right to get married or bring children into this world and raise them in security. We gathered our things while I calmed my daughter down – she’s not used to having people yell at her. I told the official: “Are you aware that you’re doing something fascistic? That you’re abusing babies?” She responded by saying that even if I returned, she wouldn’t provide me with any service. I was relieved.
Shai Rudin is a researcher and lecturer in literature.