Israel issued the first passport Monday to the surrogate baby of one of the couples that have been waiting in Thailand for the Israeli Interior Ministry to grant their children citizenship.
The parents received the passport after they submitted a form to the consulate bearing the surrogate’s name, in which she relinquished her parental rights. The rest of the couples are expected to submit similar forms next week and receive passports for their surrogate children.
Surrogacy in Thailand was complicated by a recently introduced Thai law under which babies are automatically granted citizenship according to the citizenship of their birth mothers. Birth mothers also have full custody of the children, and any attempts to take a Thai baby out of the country can be construed as kidnapping.
Early last week, the advocacy group “Help Us Bring the Babies Home” publicized the issue of surrogate children and their Israeli parents stranded in Thailand because the Interior Ministry was dragging its feet in issuing passports to the children.
There are currently some 65 babies stuck in Thailand that were conceived by homosexual Israeli couples, according to the group, which also started a Facebook page last week that has already garnered some 14,000 “Likes” and the support of Gal Uchovsky, a prominent Tel Aviv LGBTQ activist and journalist.
The group has focused its attention on Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, and is planning multiple demonstrations outside his Tel Aviv home this week, culminating Thursday in a large rally organized with the help of various LGBTQ organizations
Israeli officials struck back at the activists Tuesday, claiming that only two of the couples had formally applied for Israeli passports for the infants at the consulate in Bangkok.
If the paperwork is submitted to the consul, Israeli passports would be issued to the babies immediately, the Israeli statement said. However, it also stressed that even an Israeli passport would not guarantee that Thai authorities would allow a couple to leave the country with their baby.
But activists involved in the process dismissed the government’s claims and said applicants had gone as far as bringing the birth mothers to the consulate, but were told that the consulate could not help them.
“There are 15 couples in Thailand now. Do you think that they’re just sitting there and not going to the consulate?” Ruby Israeli-Halbreich, one of the leaders of the online campaign, said. “When we got there they told us there was no point in coming.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the couples were misguided. Bringing the birth mothers to the consulate had no bearing on the proceedings, he maintained. Instead, the couples had to seek out a Thai lawyer to draw up documents recognized by the local authorities and signed by the mothers.
He addressed the discrepancy between the government statement and claims by activists as to the number of couples who came to the embassy, claiming that while there may have been more than two couples who reached out to the embassy, only two of them had filled out an application.
While advocacy efforts have conflated the issue of gaining Israeli citizenship with permission to leave the country, Israeli authorities maintain that the two are distinct issues.
Responding to the considerable difficulties raised by the couples’ plight, the government statement instructed Israeli homosexual couples to avoid surrogacy procedures in Thailand, and warned that as of November 30, 2014, the Israeli government would no longer provide assistance to parents of babies born there.
It was the second notice the Israeli government released on the subject after the Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning to that effect at the end of December 2013.