In a sharply-worded parliamentary question to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), Likud-Beytenu MK Moshe Feiglin is demanding some answers regarding a highly controversial advertisement campaign that he says appears to encourage “gender warfare.”
The campaign encourages divorced mothers to make use of a new “fast track” for child support debts in the Hotzaa Lapoal, Israel’s Collection Agency, which enforces judgements regarding debts. Long lobbied for by genderist women’s groups, the fast track’s employees will save mothers who are owed child support much of the hassle that accompanies the collection of money that is owed them.
The campaign depicts divorced mothers dressed in military camouflage fatigues, as a way of driving home the message that they are “fighting a war” for their children by making use of the fast track.
“These days, your ministry produced a delusional and disgusting campaign of incitement,” wrote Feiglin in the parliamentary question. “In this campaign, the father is depicted in his child’s eyes as the person responsible for the fact that his mother cannot buy cereal, a shirt or a ballet lesson for the child, and the mother is supposed to wear combat fatigues and fight his father as if he were a national enemy.
“With terrible insensitivity, your ministry mixes up truly harsh cases of fathers who shirk their responsibility, with the majority of cases, involving normative fathers, who certainly seek their children’s welfare, but who have been pushed into a state of inability to pay – by your ministry’s policies, among other things.”
“In view of all of the above, it appears that it is not children’s welfare and their right to child support that your ministry’s decision makers have in mind, but the persecution of men in divorce proceedings, even at the expense of the children.”
MK Feiglin noted that just recently, a law was passed stipulating that no more citizens would be arrested for debts to the Hotzaa Lapoal – but that the only group the law does not apply to is fathers who owe child support. As a result, he said, “100% of the arrests are carried out against 3% of the debtors.” These are all fathers, because Jewish law does not require mothers to pay child support.
The bill was supported by reasoning that said that jailing a person for debt constitutes “a grave breach of human rights,” noted Feiglin. The jailing of debtors is “an illegitimate measure” and creates “terrible pressure” on the debtor and his family, the bill’s intiators wrote. Indeed, it has turned out that discontinuing the policy of jailing debtors has resulted in a 29% increase in debt collection, he added.
Feiglin explained that the child support debtors being arrested are often men “whose world has crashed down upon their heads, and who are told to pay large sums of money that they have no practical means of obtaining. In many cases, these are normative men who decided or had no choice but to separate from their spouse,” and who undergo a period of crisis, often suffering separation from their children and not having a home of their own.
The family courts, meanwhile, “mete out high child support payments and do not truly take account of the father’s financial situation.” Fathers who have been fired from their jobs must continue to pay as if they are still earning the same salaries, and the court often determines that a man’s “earning potential” is greater than what he actually earns, and sets chid support payments accordingly.
In 2013, MK Feiglin wrote, 6,016 arrest warrants for debts were handed out – all of them for child support debts – and of these, 500 ended in actual imprisonment. A “debt unification” option which the Hotzaa Lapoal makes available to other debtors as a way of reducing the burden of multiple debts is also not given to child support debtors.
MK Feiglin wants Minister Livni to tell him if her ministry has considered discontinuing the use of the threat of jail for child support debtors, as it has for all other debtors, and whether it will consider allowing child support debts to be unified with other debts.
He asks if the fact that the threat of jail against a debtor is made any more legitimate by the fact that the debtor is a man, and whether this does not constitute “harsh gender based discrimination”.
In addition, he wants the minister to say whether or not the fast track service, which is presented in a campaign for women only, “while severely inciting against men,” does not contravene the law against discrimination.