Finance official said to propose child benefit cuts to Bedouin who practice polygamy

Finance Ministry director-general tells state budget meeting that men having multiple wives is ‘an industry,’ claims reduction will lower birthrate in impoverished community

Illustrative: Residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al Hiran walk to their homes after a protest against the town's demolition, on August 27, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Residents of an unrecognized Bedouin village on August 27, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A Finance Ministry official has called to end child welfare allowances to members of the Bedouin community who practice polygamy, Channel 12 news reported on Thursday.

“Allowances for Bedouin men who have four wives should be stopped,” the ministry’s director-general Ram Belinkov said during a state budget meeting this week, according to Channel 12.

“It has become an industry here, child benefits. If we stop the benefits, the growth in the Bedouin population will stop,” he reportedly said.

Polygamous relationships have been illegal in Israel since 1977 and carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

However, authorities largely turn a blind eye to it among the Bedouin community, even though polygamy has been shown to often lead to domestic violence and inescapable poverty.

According to an August report from State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman’s office, around 14,000 women live in polygamous households in Israel.

Ram Belinkov, director-general of the Ministry of Finance, attends a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The audit also found that between 2017 and February 2020, indictments were only filed in 18 cases of polygamy while 345 cases were closed, meaning that charges were brought in only around 5% of cases.

Belinkov’s comments come amid tensions within the coalition and could rile up relations with the Islamist Ra’am party, which champions the Bedouin community and where some of its members come from.

With recent defections, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ruling coalition is on the brink of collapse, having the support of only 59 MKs out of 120.

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