Custody Battle Becomes a National Issue, Arouses Fierce Emotions

The Labor Party and a majority of the Likud opposition were in agreement with leading Israeli jurists today that a Supreme Court decision ordering the return of Dov and Menahem Yondeff, aged 8 and 9, to the custody of their father. Joseph Yondeff, of West Berlin, must be upheld and carried out.

The youngsters were brought to Israel by their mother in 1973 during divorce proceedings in which a West German court gave their father custody. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled to uphold the decision of the German court in the case in accordance with the principles of reciprocity and comity between nations.

The decision aroused fierce emotions in Israel, further heated by the children’s bitter resistance to being placed aboard planes for Germany. Anonymous threats were reportedly made against the lives of pilots and the families of pilots who would fly the Yondeff children out of Israel. Threats were also made against the life of their father should he come to Israel to collect the youngsters.

An El Al pilot reportedly refused to take the brothers on his flight to Germany because of “the general atmosphere” and “personal reasons.” The youngsters were put off a Lufthansa flight after they allegedly kicked and scratched flight personnel and passengers.

CHARGES LEVELLED AGAINST RIGHT-WING

A group of leading jurists, headed by Prof Daniel Friedman, Dean of the Tel Aviv University Law Faculty and Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, issued a statement today charging that developments in the Yondeff case indicated that Israel was becoming a “state of anarchy rather than of law.” They specifically accused Welfare Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party, the extremist Orthodox Gush Emunim movement and other right-wing ultra-nationalist groups of incitement to undermine the authority of Israel’s Supreme Court.

The Court has removed the children from their mother and placed them in a youth hostel in Natanya under police guard. A social welfare officer who visited them said they were in “good spirits.”

Labor and Likud members of the Knesset–with the exception of some Herut members of the Likud faction–spoke in favor of the Court’s decision today. But they also supported an amendment to the present laws governing the custody of minors that would make the welfare of the children the decisive factor in conflicts with a judgement by a foreign court.

The issue facing the Knesset is whether the amendment should be made retroactive–in which case it could nullify the Supreme Court’s ruling–or whether it should not be made to apply to the Yondeff case. The measure comes up for its first reading in the Knesset tomorrow. The second and final reading will take place later this week.

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