August 8, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Some years ago I wrote a piece about a shocking policy of Spain’s government during the Franco years. Under it, the children of left-leaning parents were taken at birth and handed over to families sympathetic to the fascist dictatorship to be adopted. The birth parents were told the children had died and often were shown forged death certificates as “proof.” Catholic hospitals and the nurses and doctors working there were deeply involved in the policy that lasted from the late 1940s until 1974. At the time I reported on it, the adopted children (then grown up) and their families were pressing the government to produce documents on everyone who’d been lied to and had their children trafficked into the adoption industry.
Now it appears much the same thing happened in Israel during the first years of its existence. According to this article, as well as at least one book on the subject, from about 1948 to 1956, Israeli government officials colluded with doctors, hospitals and nurses to take children from birth mothers for the purpose of having them adopted (Al Jazeera, 8/5/16). As in Spain, the birth parents were told the children had died and forged documents were presented to back up the story. Parents never saw the bodies of their children or their graves.
Who were these parents who had their children targeted for adoption? They were mostly Yemeni Jews. In the early days of the new nation, Jews from all over the Middle East and elsewhere were encouraged to go to Israel to strengthen what was regarded as a needed bastion for Jews against the hatred that had so recently manifested itself in the Holocaust. Many answered the call, among them hundreds of thousands of Yemeni Jews. The United States and Great Britain supported the move with Operation Magic Carpet that airlifted some 50,000 Yemeni Jews to Israel.
But there was a problem. Ashkenazi Jews, mostly from Europe, were the movers and shakers of the new state and they looked down on the Yemenis calling them Mizrahim, a derogatory term. In what must stand as one of recent history’s greatest ironies, they regarded them as primitive, uneducable and virtually subhuman. As such, mothers who’d recently given birth were deemed to be uninterested in their own children who were therefore considered eligible for adoption by Ashkenazi families. In that way, the children would grow up in the “proper” atmosphere to be a credit and a boon to the fledgling state. The theft of children was considered patriotic.
It may also be something far more sinister – genocide. Again, the irony is palpable.
Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber, an Israel academic who has written a book on the disappearances titled Israeli Media and the Framing of Internal Conflict: The Yemenite Babies Affair, noted that the “forcible transfer” of children from one ethnic group to another satisfied the United Nations definition of “genocide”. The 1951 convention includes the crime of “complicity”.
“Ultimately, I don’t think it matters whether government officials actively planned what happened or they simply looked the other way while others carried out the kidnappings,” she told Al Jazeera. “Either way, this was a crime perpetrated against thousands of parents who still don’t know the truth about their children’s fate.”
No one knows how many children were stolen from their parents in that way. Three separate efforts have been made to ascertain the extent of the atrocity, the latest being the Kedmi Commission that closed its books in 2001. But Kedmi, that found some 5,000 cases of abduction and adoption to have occurred, is widely regarded as an attempt to whitewash the scandal. That take is supported by the fact that the Commission put under lock hundreds of thousands of documents it used in its investigation.
Yael Tzadok, an Israeli journalist who has spent 20 years investigating cases of children who disappeared, told Al Jazeera: “This is Israel’s darkest secret. Jews kidnapped other Jews, Jews who were coming to a state that had been created as a refuge in the immediate wake of the Holocaust.
According to those present at the time, the taking of newborns and even older children from parents was routine. Heavy hitters in the Israeli government, like General Yigal Allon, simply made presents of children to their friends. Judge Moshe Landau, who went on to serve on the Israeli Supreme Court, approved adoptions using falsified documents.
Ahuva Goldfarb, national supervisor of social services at that time, admitted to the Kedmi inquiry that children had been “unregistered” when sent out of the absorption camps, away from their parents.
He added: “It was systematic as could be.” The parents were told their child was “no longer alive”.
No less a person than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to investigate, uncover the truth and make it known to the Israeli people.
The outrages perpetrated by the governments of Spain and Israel against parents, children and families, while exceptional in their frankness, call to mind what happens regularly in the family courts of the United States and other parts of the English-speaking world today. Many observers of Israel’s Yemeni affair call the actions “trafficking,” and so they were. Many observers of the actions of child protective agencies in the United States see similarities.
The euphemistically named Adoptions and Safe Families Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1997, set up financial incentives for states to remove children from families, place them in foster care from which they could be adopted. According to one state Senator from North Dakota, the law caused a sea change in the way CPS treated children. After its passage, vastly more children were taken from their parents and placed in foster care, the hope being that, with adoption, federal revenue would flow to the state.
Those federal incentives are particularly lucrative when the children are denominated as having special needs. In North Dakota, that meant that every single Native American child was tagged as having “special needs,” the result being that those kids were specially targeted by the state’s child protective apparatus for foster care and adoption.
And of course it goes without saying that poor parents are especially vulnerable to having their children taken by the state. Indeed, it was only yesterday that I quoted CPS officials referring to poor parents as “the dregs of humanity” and saying “there’s a difference between them and us.” To my ear, that sounds a lot like what the Ashkenazim of Israel thought about the Mizrahim of Yemen.
It’s certainly true that, here in the enlightened United States in the enlightened 21st century, CPS agencies aren’t telling parents their children are dead and forging death certificates in order to facilitate the adoption of their kids. But what they are doing is often seizing on quite minor instances of abuse or neglect to take children from the very parents who are least able to resist, i.e. the poor. They’re doing that in large part because of the largess Washington promises to send their way if they do.
The history of nation states’ treatment of the children of the poor – from Native Americans having their children taken into American schools to the orphan trains of the early 20th century to English workhouses and countless other examples – isn’t pretty. We’ve improved somewhat, but it seems the same motivations are at work. The poor and vulnerable always seem to be subject to the state’s consistent tendency to believe that it knows better than parents how to raise their kids.
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