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Israel sees Bedouin polygamy as security threat

Some Israeli Bedouin men continue to practice polygamy, in part to milk state benefits, but some worry the practice is creating a security threat.
Bedouin women sit next to their makeshift home on November 22, 2016 in the village of Umm Al-Hiran village, which is not recognized by the Israeli government, near the southern city of Beersheba in the Negev desert.
In May 2015, Israel's Supreme Court approved the removal of 750-1,000 Bedouin residents from Umm al-Hiran to enable the construction of a Jewish town. According to Human Rights Watch, the villagers say they were expelled from their land in 1948, when the state of Israel was established, and whil
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It is rare to see Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked smiling, let alone laughing out loud. However, Sheikh Ibrahim A-Touri, the leader of the Bedouin community in the Negev, caused the minister to burst into spontaneous, hearty laughter when she visited Bedouin towns and villages in March and spoke about an initiative she was promoting to curb polygamy. What made Shaked laugh? The honorable sheikh's explanation on the logic, as he saw it, behind a polygamous lifestyle: “You’re a beautiful woman, a real dish, but one can’t keep eating the same dish all the time, even if it’s superb. … The difference between myself and your husband,” the sheikh went on, “is that when he wants a different dish, he has to sneak off to some hotel room, whereas I go openly and proudly to the home of my second or third wife. So, honorable lady minister, which of us has more respect for women?”

The immense cultural-social gap epitomized in this exchange reflects a small measure of the difficulties entailed in dealing with polygamy in the Israeli Bedouin community. Yet Israel’s government is the one encouraging this phenomenon, even as it issues declarations condemning it. Shaked is the standard-bearer for this cause. Two years ago, along with then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, she announced measures against polygamous marriage, but not much happened. In January, she presented a new plan and even got the government to adopt a resolution on the matter, but still, nothing changed.

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