The Battle for Parenthood

The state prosecutor is currently defending the refusal of Interior Minister Eli Yishai to recognize the parenthood of two men who adopted a child; the dispute has gone to the High Court of Justice for a decision.

The state prosecutor is currently defending the refusal of Interior Minister Eli Yishai to recognize the parenthood of two men who adopted a child; the dispute has gone to the High Court of Justice for a decision. The minister argues that the two must not be registered as parents because the state does not recognize a legal framework of single-sex parenthood.

The High Court will have to decide whether the law bars the minister from registering the child in accordance with the wish of his adoptive parents, and if not, whether his refusal to do so is reasonable. In fact, this is something the state prosecutor could have done herself: not every whim of a politician deserves defense before the High Court.

Yishai, who is the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, is a cynical person who views politics above all as a power game. The state of Israel grants the interior minister broad powers, mainly in order to supervise the Arab local governments. The interior minister's clout also draws a nice return on election day.

Beyond his political influence, however, the minister and the officials under him wield great power when it comes to deciding people's fate. If he wishes, he can delay the immigration to Israel of Jews from Ethiopia, for example. He can also prevent family reunification, as in the case of an Arab citizen of Israel who marries a resident of the territories.

The minister can deport people who have resided in Israel for many years, and not only foreign workers. He can strip Israeli nationals of their citizenship, as he did in the case of a person who is suspected of being an accomplice to terrorists. He also has the power to prevent, without explanation, the entry into Israel of people he finds politically undesirable, as he did when he ordered the expulsion of human rights activists from Europe.

It is therefore necessary to reduce the powers of the interior minister. This would be an excellent issue for an industrious Knesset member. The refusal to recognize the parenthood of men who adopted a child illustrates how the minister exploits his power to force on the state his party's nationalist-fundamentalist ideology.

The two men, whose identity may not be made public, have lived together for about 16 years; they are both Israelis who also have American citizenship. The child is five years old, and he was adopted according to American law. In a modern state, a warm home and loving parents to ensure that the child wants for nothing are not enough; legal recognition is also mandatory.

The couple's lawyer, Irit Rosenblum from the New Family association, this week cited several situations that require formal legal recognition. For example, the child will not be able to go on a school outing, because there will be no one to sign a consent form.

Without legal parents, the child will have a hard time getting a gas mask. The police at the passport control counter may give him a hard time if he wants to leave the country. Should his parents die, or decide to separate, he is liable to remain without legal protection.

Rosenblum has drawn up a bill that she would like to see enacted as the Basic Law on the Family, which would resolve problems of this kind. However, she says, even the existing laws require the interior minister to recognize the parenthood of the two men, because the role of the Interior Ministry is to register what it is told and the law does not stipulate that "parents" are necessarily a man and a woman.

Shas differs from Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties, which look after mainly their constituency and themselves. They appropriate large chunks of the national budget, they get their voters exemptions from army service and all manner of other benefits. For the most part, they make do with what they get for their voters and for themselves. Shas, in contrast, sees itself as an ideological vanguard and seeks to foment a revolution of values. As such, it also rejects the alternative lifestyles that exist today in Israel, as they do elsewhere.

The attempt by the chairman of Shas to prevent people from departing from the traditional family framework by invoking his powers as interior minister, shows what drives people to seek the defense of the High Court, as they have no other choice, and sheds new light on Shas's contention that the Ashkenazi elites are forcing alien values on the country by means of the Supreme Court. The parents of the child whom the Interior Ministry is refusing to register as theirs would gladly forgo this battle.