כל הפרטים שעדיין לא פורסמו בישראל על פרשת גלית צרפתי, בנה ובעלה לשעבר אבי חי שחשוד בפגיעה מינית
Galit Tzarfati is a 43-year-old single Israeli mother with a 5-year old son, living in Kfar Kochav in southern Israel. We will call him “Noam” here though that’s not his real name. Five years ago, she married Avi Chai from Holon, who she’d met 2 months earlier. She became pregnant and had a son. But the couple divorced when the boy was 6-months old. She complained of her husband’s unrestrained outbursts and uncontrollable anger as the reasons for ending the marriage.
Chai is a videographer who has freelanced for Ynet, the digital news portal for Yediot Achronot. He also runs his own professional video production studio. There is an Israeli gag order prohibiting identifying Chai. I proudly violate this gag order (though it has no legal standing here in the US). No one accused of sexual abuse of a child deserves this sort of protection.
Chai’s lawyer is Mira Sayag, a prominent family law attorney who writes a legal column for Yediot. Given that her client is frequently commissioned to produce videos for the media outlet and his lawyer also published regularly there, this poses a clear conflict of interest in reporting this case. It also raises the question whether Yediot aided Chai in securing her legal representation.
After the divorce, the mom shared custody of Noam with her ex-husband. She even increased the number of days her husband took their son, because she sought to have the boy’s father in his life.
But at age 2, her son began complaining of physical pain after returning from such visits. By the time he had learned to speak, Noam began to describe pain in his rectum to her. She took him to the family doctor, who observed physical signs of abuse. He recommended to child welfare authorities that the victim be examined by a medical specialist in such forensic matters, which never happened. Later in the investigation, specialists hired by Galit, including a proctologist, found fissures in his rectum consistent with anal penetration and rape. He determined the only possible cause of such damage was sexual abuse. He reported this to the police and social services. Please click the video above to watch eye witness testimony from Galit and the medical professionals who treated her abused child.
One of Galit’s prior attorneys noted a smoking gun piece of evidence completely disregarded by child welfare authorities and the two female judges who heard the case and an appeal. Galit brought her child to Kaplan Hospital for treatment after a weekend spent with his father. The doctors hospitalized Noam due to the seriousness of his condition. Doctors noted a new anal fissure and recorded the child’s account of how it happened: “Daddy pushed me from behind and made a tear.”
Upon such examinations, physicians always compile a written report of their findings. Without doubt, it exists. It almost certainly was viewed by both the police, state prosecutor, child welfare workers and the judges. After seeing such a report, disregarding it, and finding against the mother, this entire process can only be called at best, malfeasance; and at worst, criminal.
During a separate medical exam, Noam said: “Daddy hurts me. He pushes things into my behind.” After some visits, the mother found lacerations on his body and the boy said his father had beat him. Several of the clinical psychologists and child abuse specialists the mother visited recommended a restraining order against the father and that any contact with his son be conducted under supervision. They also urged the court to order a psychological examination of the father to determine whether he might be likely to sexually abuse his son. The court followed none of these recommendations.
Though child welfare services were bound to investigate, they never commissioned professional evaluations from doctors or forensic experts in sexual abuse to confirm the diagnosis. The official investigation involved social workers with minimal background in sexual abuse cases. It was cursory and did not confirm the mother’s claim.
After Galit filed a complaint of abuse against her husband, he then filed for custody of their son. Coincidentally, HBO is now airing the blockbuster expose portraying Woody Allen as a sexual predator and borderline sociopath. The series includes interviews with psychological and legal experts in sexual abuse. Among the typical phenomena they found in the Allen v. Farrow case is when a mother files charges against a father for sexual abuse, the latter will very often immediately file for custody of the child. It’s a clever legal tactic because it distracts from the criminal charges raised against the perpetrator and puts the mother on the defensive. In the custody filings, the father’s attorneys will often label the mother unbalanced, hysterical, prone to fantasies, etc. If he can make the mother out to be psychologically damaged, then her criminal charges against him will be impeached. This is precisely what happened in Galit’s case.
As part of its investigation, the court ordered private consultants to observe the child and determine whether the mother’s claims were credible. These private practitioners are paid by the state. As such, it furnishes a considerable share of their income from such consulting work. As the system is already predisposed to reject claims of paternal abuse, if the consultant confirms that abuse occurred, he or she will not receive future referrals. Thus, it’s in the social worker’s interest to find what the welfare authorities want them to find.
In Galit’s case, when a police officer followed up with the social worker, the former was told not to bother questioning the victim, Noam, because he was purportedly autistic. In fact, he is a gifted child with full communication faculties. In the formal report filed by the social worker hired by the court, s/he could not determine whether the boy was autistic, but could not rule out that he was not.
In many similar cases, when an Israeli mother raises claims of sexual abuse, state social workers warn her that such accusations could lead to her losing custody. This is enough to shut many mothers up. When faced with the prospect of losing one’s child, such a parent often would forego holding their spouse accountable for a heinous crime. This is a method of suppressing such claims so as not to overburden the social welfare system. It denies justice to women whose children are damaged by fathers.
In the authorities’ evaluation of Galit, they juxtaposed Avi Chai, who had remarried; with his ex-wife, who had not. They said of the father approvingly, that he had “moved on,” while she had not. They accused her of being jealous of her husband’s success in building a new life. In effect, they saw her charges of sexual abuse as evidence of a pathology on her part that compelled her to obsess about the past and fail to move on to the future. The social worker who examined the case stated that something is “mentally wrong” with the mother. There was no support in any of the child welfare evaluations of this claim. The family law judge who found against Galit, also claimed that she hadn’t remarried because she was “stuck” in the past.
Officials investigating Galit’s claim also noted that she and Noam lived with her grandparents. This meant (to them) that she was a weak, unstable individual who could not make her way on her own. This finding of course ignores that Israeli divorce protocols offer mothers a pittance in child support. And if the father is a deadbeat dad, the system does little to enforce rulings that call for spousal maintenance. This in turn leaves the mothers to their own financial devices. Costs for housing are high, as are general living expenses. Expecting a single mother to be able to make her way without such support ignores the economic realities of Israeli society.
Charging Mothers With Mental Illness
Another charge raised by investigators hired by the welfare authorities was that the mother suffered from Munchhausen-by-Proxy, a mental illness by which a mother seeks attention from the world by maintaining the child under poor living conditions, then claiming he or she had mysterious medical conditions requiring urgent medical care or hospitalization:
People with FDIA have an inner need for the other person (often his or her child) to be seen as ill or injured. It is not done to achieve a concrete benefit, such as financial gain. People with FDIA are even willing to have the child or patient undergo painful or risky tests and operations in order to get the sympathy and special attention given to people who are truly ill and their families. Factitious disorders are considered mental illnesses because they are associated with severe emotional difficulties.
There was never any evidence offered that Galit had provided any less than excellent care in raising her son. The Munchausen claim was yet another stab in the dark by untrained social workers masquerading as experts in child development.
The authorities also raised the claim that the little boy could be brainwashed by his mother into believing he’d been abused. However, there are clear protocols used by professionals who investigate charges of sexual abuse, to determine whether a child is fantasizing or manufacturing claims, rather than recounting real incidents. In this case, no such consultants were ever hired by the court to test such claims. While the mother did hire forensic consultants who affirmed her and the boy’s claims of abuse.
The Father’s Defense
When the police asked the father to explain the medical findings, he told them that the boy had had these fissures from birth. This was a lie. Then he claimed Noam suffered from an “auto-immune disorder” that produced internal physical damage. There is no such medical condition in the literature. Nor did the State prosecutor tasked with examining the case, consult with medical specialists to confirm the purported diagnosis. Nevertheless, when the prosecutor spoke to Galit’s lawyer, the former offered the autoimmune claim on his own, as if it was a documented condition.
Further, this claim by the father later turns up in explanations offered by child welfare authorities to buttress their own claims that sexual abuse never occurred. It is astonishing that State authorities tasked with protecting the welfare of a child, would accept carte blanche the unsupported claims of the accused in such matters. But those familiar with the Israeli system aren’t surprised.
NGOs devoted to combatting sexual abuse of children have compiled surveys of mothers who reported abuse of their children by spouses. Those polls routinely said that when they examined the files compiled by welfare authorities, they were filled with the sorts of lies and inventions mentioned above. A U.S. study found that the incidence of false claims of sex abuse by child victims was under 2% for children under the age of 6. A Canadian study found that the incidence of “mistreatment” claims intentionally fabricated by parents was 4% In the event of a custody dispute, the result is higher. However, in the context of Galit’s case it’s worth noting the study found:
Noncustodial parents (usually fathers) most frequently make intentionally false reports. Of the intentionally false allegations of maltreatment tracked by the CIS-98, custodial parents (usually mothers) and children were least likely to fabricate reports of abuse or neglect.
When the father was questioned about the causes of the child’s condition he refused to answer while claiming he knew nothing about them. He did admit during examination that he was subject to loss of self-control. Further, in obtaining exemption from reserve military service, the father underwent a psychiatric evaluation which determined he had a tendency toward depression and harsh mental states. He also admitted drug use and involvement with criminal elements. The authorities permitted none of this into the record.
Another psychological motivation for the alleged sexual abuse by the father might be a desire to take revenge on her for divorcing him. This is, in effect, a reversal of the parental alienation syndrome which I discuss below. In this case, a volatile, angry father prone to pathological rages might easily take out his anger on a small child who cannot resist. Chai knows that the boy is the mother’s treasure. What better way to cause her to suffer than to harm her only child?
Another method the State uses to straightjacket mothers is by burdening them with the full costs of all state proceedings to investigate and adjudicate the charges. These include professional medical and psychological evaluations, along with lawyers and court fees. The total cost can amount to between $50,000-100,000. In most cases, especially those of single mothers with limited income, this can be insurmountable. It also explains why Galit lived with her grandparents, rather than independently.
Nevertheless, Galit proceeded into the maelstrom. She hired a lawyer, psychologists and specialists in sexual abuse who examined her son. All confirmed sexual abuse. They found fissures in the child’s rectum indicative of physical abuse. An eminent child development psychologist, Edna Mann, specializing in sexual abuse of children said that the boy, during one session with her, used repeated hand gestures with a clenched fist, clearly representing the act of anal intercourse. He told her that he wanted to beat his father with a steel bar due to the pain he caused him. In a video recorded by other women activists combatting sexual abuse, the psychologist who treated the boy said in her thirty years in practice she has never seen a more horrifying case of abuse.
Once, after Galit’s son returned from a visit with his father, he again complained he had been abused. But this time he told his mother that another man had also been in the room while he was abused. It’s worth noting that Avi Chai, the boy’s father, is a professional photographer who has his own studio. The possibility that a second party witnessed the child’s rape raises suspicion of the father being part of a child pornography ring. The possibility is heightened by Chai’s past involvement with “criminal elements” according to the psychiatric evaluation mentioned above. This would be the first thing that a professional police department would investigate. However, no forensic examination of the father’s computer or electronic devices ever happened. This forces one to determine that Israeli police are either uninterested in, or woefully ignorant concerning crimes of sexual abuse of children.
Father Gains Full Custody, as Female Judge Excoriates Mother
During custody proceedings, the family law Judge Geula Levine found in favor of the father and gave him full custody. Her ruling betrays a profound animus against Galit. Levine found that the mother’s claims entirely without merit; that she had invented the charges of abuse out of whole cloth; and that she had created her own reality which had no bearing on actual events. She even claimed that the mother’s repeated doctor’s visits with her child were themselves abusive because of the physically invasive nature of the exams. The judge even called the exams “sexual abuse,” a bizarre claim equating a medical examination with a sexual act. In fact, only one of these exams involved an internal physical exam. Finally, there was no neutral investigation by professionals of the mother’s claims.
Galit took her case all the way to the Supreme Court, after her appeal was denied by the Beersheva district court. The former refused to hear her case. Her last appeal denied, Tzarfati determined that she must protect her son above all else. She went into hiding with him with the help of several feminist activists. Eventually, she was apprehended by authorities who returned the boy to his father.
The mother was jailed for three weeks at Shikma prison, thrown in with common criminals. This was the third prison she has been held in over the past few weeks. The repeated moves are designed to break her spirit and frustrate activists who are fighting on her behalf, by making it hard to know exactly where she is being held.
While in prison, she was prohibited from making or receiving phone calls and had no contact with her lawyer. This is treatment ordinarily meted out to Palestinian security prisoners suspected of terror offenses. Not mothers ‘guilty’ of protecting their children.
She is now under house arrest. But the court refused to permit her to be confined to her grandmother’s house, where she had been living. Instead, she is at a distant relative’s house She faces a kidnapping charge with a possible 20-year sentence.
Israeli Child Welfare System Favors Fathers, Disrespect Mothers
How did this happen? How is it that in Israel a judge, and a female judge at that, would dismiss the professionally documented claims of a mother that her son was being raped by her own husband? How is it that in the midst of such a dispute a judge would not only award custody to the dad, but full custody?
Certainly, this modus operandi is the opposite of what happens in the democratic nations to which Israel likes to compare itself. In such states, mothers are often designated primary custodial caregivers and granted favor in such proceedings. Only under the direst circumstances, in which the court finds placement with the mother would jeopardize a child’s health or welfare, will it deny mothers full or partial custody.
Circumstances in Israel are diametrically opposite. Israel is a patriarchal society. It is a society inimical to the welfare of women. There are high levels of abuse, physical violence, rape and femicide by husbands and close family members. These misogynist attitudes infect the realm of family law as well.
In the 1980s, an American psychiatrist, Richard Gardner, proposed a new theory to describe what he saw as a tendency by mothers going through divorce. He suggested that they filed complaints of child abuse to alienate fathers from their children. He called it “parental alienation of affection.” The theory became useful in custody disputes where there were claims of paternal abuse during hearings. Gardner became a sought-after expert witness on behalf of such fathers and their attorneys in the courts. Israel was the only country in the world where he was an official guest of the welfare ministry. It hosted training sessions for its child welfare staff.
Gardner never offered scientific evidence to support his theories. He never compiled clinical studies or submitted articles to peer-reviewed publications:
“Gardner just presented the theory with no research to back it up,” says Jeffrey Edleson, PhD, director of the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse and a professor and the director of research at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. “PAS is essentially composed of unsubstantiated claims; there’s no science behind it.”
Among Gardner’s other questionable claims, was a defense of pedophilia as beneficial to the “propagation of the race.” Eventually, other psychologists discredited the Gardener claims. He was later sued by his victims. Later, despondent over a debilitating neurological condition, he committed suicide. It was a painful gory death in which he repeatedly plunged a knife into his neck and heart.
But in Israel, his approach was embraced by not only legal practitioners, but family law judges and by the Supreme Court itself. These individuals were already predisposed toward his theories, because of the patriarchal-misogynist nature of Israeli society. Thus they fell on fertile ground and were widely embraced, as they continue to be to this day. In fact, the family law section of the Israeli bar association has a special panel devoted to parental alienation and its role in both family development and divorce-custody proceedings. One powerful Israeli judge, Erez Shani, has even urged that mothers found “guilty” of parental alienation should face criminal charges!
So for anyone wondering how a female judge (who is childless) could make such preposterous claims in a formal judicial proceeding, the answer lies in Israel’s societal context. While a judge may be a woman, when she is in court she is a judge first and foremost. Therefore, she behaves as she believes a judge should and would act. She sets aside whatever natural instinct she might have as a woman or mother, and treats the mothers before her as subjects in legal proceedings. In fact, Israeli sociologists examined judicial rulings by female jurists, finding they were far harsher and more discriminatory against women than men.
Unfortunately, this means that common sense and maternal instinct are discarded in favor of pure theoretical legalism shorn of any connection to reality as lived by normal families. It means that mothers are viewed in many cases as hysterical fantasists and narcissists projecting their own personal pathologies onto their families, punishing their male partners in the process. That is the only way to explain how Israeli family law could justify imprisoning a mother for doing her utmost to protect her child from physical, mental and sexual damage.
Divorced mothers are not the only group abused and disrespected in Israeli society. Palestinians, the LGBTQ community, and Mizrahim share the same fate. Their rights are violated. Their contributions are ignored. Their role in society is constricted by discriminatory laws and regulations.
Men’s Rights at Women’s Expense
As in this country, there is a vocal men’s rights movement in Israel which defends the prerogatives of fathers. One of its primary ways of doing so is to attack mothers, and by extension all Israeli women. It maintains a political lobby and enjoys the support of powerful MKs like Bezalel Smotrich, Gideon Saar (himself once accused of having sex with a minor), current Israeli ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, and female MKs like environment minister, Gila Gamliel. He recently proposed sweeping “reforms” of family, divorce and custody regulations.
If Israel had a term for deadbeat dads in Hebrew, it would be an honorific and not an insult. The men’s rights movement is proud of its misogyny. It is a particularly brutal group, not averse to publicly doxxing mothers and children. An example of such behavior was my reporting on the case of Israeli TV reporter and rape suspect, Yoav Even. After I published a pixellated version of the victim, a member of this male mafia found the original picture and published it, clearly identifying her.
These men view mothers as evil incarnate (here is an example of their smear of Galit). There is even a new trend among them to sue mothers for defamation who accuse them of abuse. Its supporters also demonstrate publicly in front of the homes of judges considered “pro-women.” Though there are laws protecting the privacy and security of public officials, the police stand by and do nothing.
They doxxed Galit, and turned her case on its head by publicly accusing her (not the father) of damaging her son. In their view, the continuing charges of sexual abuse against him are what turns the child against his father and causes him psychological damage. Virtually all claims of paternal sexual abuse are dismissed as lies or fantasies.
There is a judicial gag order prohibiting the naming of the father. There is no such gag order regarding Galit’s role in the case. This is why I’m violating the gag order (though I’m not subject to it anyway, as I publish outside Israel). Avi Chai has also deleted his Facebook account, so finding any photographs of him was difficult. If you do, please contact me.
Police have not warned offenders to remove photographs of Galit from the internet. Thus they reinforce notions of misogyny in their law enforcement work. They are routinely skeptical of rape victims and loathe to prosecute perpetrators. The vast majority of cases brought to them are dismissed for lack of evidence. Only 3-5% of women who file charges in such cases see their rapist prosecuted in court. That’s one of the reasons why police have not enforced the gag order.
In addition to having friends among the police, as I mentioned, the men’s rights movement is politically potent and has forged alliances with numerous far-right politicians to advance its interests.
Adding further insult to injury, State prosecutors also favor fathers in such proceedings. After a mother loses in the first round after filing abuse charges, she may appeal to the prosecutor. But the State accepts appeals in only 2% of cases. One of the reasons offered is the false belief that jealous, spiteful mothers nursing a grudge are motivated to lie in order to paint an unflattering picture of their ex-husbands. In fact, studies have shown that only 3% of women lie in such cases.
This system is corrupt, dysfunctional and deeply prejudicial to women. Like many aspects of Israel’s paternalistic, patriarchal society, it must change.
Thank you to the Israeli feminist activists, lawyers, journalists and academics who provided invaluable assistance in writing this post. Neither Galit Tzarfait nor any family member participated directly or indirectly in the preparation of this report. All images were retrieved from publicly accessible Facebook accounts.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.