'Law prevented Social Services action'

The Jerusalem Post/January 14, 2010

As Israel Police lifted the gag order on the arrest of suspected cult leader Goel Ratzon, Ministry of Welfare and Social Services officials maintained that for the past decade they were powerless to prosecute the man who was clearly the husband of 17 women and fathered approximately 60 children with them.

Over the past decade, social workers in the Tel Aviv district claim they watched Ratzon's growing clan and responded to several calls for help, but after each incident was resolved the authorities could not find sufficient grounds for his arrest on a charge strong enough to break up his unusual family.

Because Ratzon was not legally married to all the women, the authorities could not arrest him for polygamy, which is illegal in Israel. In addition, all social services' checks on Ratzon's children, which included interviews with school and kindergarten teachers, found them to be well-dressed, fed and cared for. The children range in age, including nine under the age of three.

It was only a call to social welfare services last July from a woman claiming to be held by Ratzon against her will that allowed the authorities to start building a case based on anti-enslavement legislation introduced in 2006 as part of human trafficking laws.

"This case is completely different from anything else we've seen in Israel," said one social services source.

Indeed, the 150 social workers selected to assist the police with its undercover operation over the past seven months had to refer to cases of cults and slavery from around the world, such as David Koresh's cult in Waco, Texas.

Social workers were carefully selected by the ministry to deal with this case and all have been alerted to the possibility that some of the women could try to commit suicide now that their leader has been taken away.

The suicide pact was highlighted last year in a Channel 10 documentary made about the family. Sources told The Jerusalem Post this week that social workers watched the film hundreds of times to become thoroughly familiar with the women they were about to rescue.

Now that the cult has been disbanded, authorities say the real work is in assisting the women and children involved in moving on from the life they had with Ratzon and to help them resume normal lives.

The ministry said that it was allocating a separate budget to deal with the ongoing treatment and rehabilitation counseling the women would need.

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