A Bedouin from southern Israel was convicted last week by the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court for the crime of polygamy, a major step in the enforcement of polygamy laws in Israel.
The man was sentenced to seven months in prison, and this is the second such conviction for polygamy since Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit adopted guidelines on law enforcement.
The previous case dates back to 2019, when a man was convicted of polygamy but initially only sentenced to community service.
However, a district court later overturned this decision and sent him to prison.
Responding to the new verdict, the NGO Regavim said: “The court made a clear and important statement: Polygamy is a criminal offence and will not be tolerated in the State of Israel.
While polygamy is officially illegal in Israel, it remains present in the Bedouin sector, where it is largely unregulated. The practice remains a serious problem in Bedouin society as it impacts on the most vulnerable members, women and children.
According to a 2018 interministerial report published by the then Director General of the Ministry of Justice, Emi Palmor, there were approximately 6,200 polygamous marriages in Israel, representing 18.5% of families in the Bedouin sector of approximately 250,000 people.
This represented an even higher rate of polygamy than in Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
However, it is difficult to get out of these marriages, however unhappy they may be, due to the fact that the Bedouin community traditionally disapproves of divorce and often leads mothers to lose custody of their children.
In addition, these marriages are often more frequent among the poorest in Bedouin society, where they are motivated by financial incentives.
According to Regavim, who has studied and monitored polygamy in the Bedouin sector for years, the practice is strongly motivated by payments and benefits from the National Insurance (Bituach Leumi).
But I hope that this verdict will be the necessary step to ensure that “polygamy will no longer be treated as a private matter affecting members of individual households; its impact on the nation as a whole is finally recognised.
“Israeli taxpayers have been paying the bill for far too long,” said Regavim’s director of operations, Yakhin Zik, in a statement.
We commend former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and former Director General of the Ministry of Justice Emi Palmor for their leadership in bringing about this much needed change, and hope that strict penalties, coupled with educational initiatives and awareness campaigns among young adults in the Bedouin sector, will end polygamy in Israel once and for all.