Alan Flashman

‘Parental Alienation’ – Israel and the World

Reem Alsalem is the UN Human Rights Council Special Rappoerteur on violence against women and girls. On April 13, 2023 she issued a comprehensive report called “Custody, violence against women and violence against children.” Her focus was on “the abuse of the term ‘parental alienation’ and similar pseudo-concepts.” What’s this to do with Israel?

It so happens that over the past decade at least and especially the past five or six years, this dangerous and abusive pseudo-concept has become all but the default mode of operation in many of Israel’s family courts.

Ms. Alsalem minces no words:

“10. The pseudo-concept of parental alienation was coined by Richard Gardner, a psychologist, [oops – he was a child psychiatrist. A.F.] who claimed that children alleging sexual abuse during high conflict divorces suffer from “parental alienation syndrome” caused by mothers who have led their children to believe that they have been abused by their fathers and to raise allegations of abuse against them. He recommended draconian remedies to address the syndrome, including a complete cut-off from the mother in order to “deprogramme” the child. It was argued that the more that children rejected the relationship with their fathers, the more evidence of the alienating syndrome was observed.

11. Gardner’s theory has been criticized for its lack of empirical basis, for its problematic assertions about sexual abuse and for recasting abuse claims as false tools for alienation, which, in some cases, have dissuaded evaluators and courts from assessing whether abuse has actually occurred. It has been dismissed by medical, psychiatric and psychological associations, and in 2020 it was removed from the International Classification of Diseases by the World Health Organization. Nevertheless, it has gained considerable traction and has been widely used to negate allegations of domestic and sexual abuse within family court systems on a global scale.”

Back in 2016, just prior to Israel’s de facto adoption of this policy, I had expressed concerns about it in a TOI Blog. More recently one of my motivations for publishing professional works on family therapy and mental health in pediatrics was to update my concerns based on what seems to me and many of my colleagues nothing short of a horror show.

Is it possible to present this phenomenon fully here? I doubt it. After all, family court proceedings regarding minors are guarded as strictly confidential, creating  a shroud of secrecy over what is public policy. I will simply record my direct experiences:

  • It is no secret that the social workers responsible for “best interests of the child” recommendations to the Family Court in disputed custody cases have adopted the “parental alienation pseudo concept” as an undisputed truth to be applied vigorously. In 2009, when I was teaching these social workers for the Ministry of Welfare and suggested that Gardner was controversial, I was abruptly removed from my teaching – by a former student, no less.
  • At one time, the difficult disputes were referred to the Special Assitance Unit, part of the court itself, highly trained and NEVER inclined towards the Gardner approach. This unit was abruptly “recast” and devoted purely to encouragement of mediation by then Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked about six years ago. That left the social workers described  in the previous paragraph a free field for Gardnerian applications.
  • I have been shocked by several cases where mothers pleaded that I evaluate a child who complained that the nocustodial father abused them in visitations. When I reported that to my best clinical judgment the abuse was real, custody was abruptly awarded to the allegedly abusing father on Gardnerian grounds: such a complaint proves ipso facto that the mother is abusively alienating her child against the father.
  • Hundreds of such cases have been collected, the vast majority where custody is awarded to a father aganist whom the allegations were made.
  • Some of the “children” who were “treated” for “alienation” were in their teens and are no longer minors. (Even Gardner hardly suggested that a teenager could be “alienated.”) One daughter has filed suit against the social workers and the court for abuse, and I wrote the opinion regarding her damages claim. The young woman in question – and another young man who has come for treatment to dispel the damages of the “treatment,” clearly suffer from a form of PTSD inficted by the courts.
  • Channel 13’s legal reporter, Baruck Kra, made a two-part inquiry into the activities of one Tel Aviv Family Court justice whose devotion to Gardner is unshakeable and whose actions against “alienation” are extreme. Otherwise, the media seems to want nothing to do with this matter.

Which is why I am writing this blog.

It is my hope that a proper full-scale investigation of this phenomenon will become a mission of a media person – in Israel or outside – devoted to preventing our state and its apparatus from inflicting unnecessary suffering on children of divorce.

About the Author
Alan Flashman was born in Foxborough, MA, and gained his BA from Columbia, MD from NYU, Pediatrics, Adult and Child Psychiatry specialties at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Bronx, NY. He has practiced in Beer Sheba since 1983, and taught mental health at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. Alan has edited readers on Therapeutic Communication with Children (2002) and Adolescents (2005) in Hebrew, translated Buber's I and Thou anew into Hebrew, and authored Losing It, an autobiography, and From Protection to Passover. He recently published two summary works of his clinical experience (both 2022) Family Therapies for the 21st Century and Mental Health in Pediatrics.