Threatened motherhood in the Israeli welfare state: The discourse and the practice behind the disqualification of disadvantaged women's motherhood

I received my PhD in Anthropology from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1991. Since then I have studied and taught various topics related to bureaucracy and gender in the contexts of immigration, education, welfare, the Holocaust and the sex trade. My current research focuses on gender and ageism in gyms and during COVID-19.

My ongoing research on motherhood and the welfare policies started in the beginning of the 90s and since then I’ve published numerous academic and op-ed columns on this subject. My recent book on State Violence toward mothers and children is based on both my research and my social activity, supporting mothers who struggle against the welfare and legal authorities disqualifying their motherhood.

Also I’m involved in various feminist activities, among which are: the founding of SHIN, the Israeli Movement for Equal Representation of Women, two women’s parties, the Women’s Parliament, the young women’s parliament, as well as a few feminist coalitions.


My talk will be based on the book I have published recently, titled: “State Violence against Mothers and Children”. It will describe the struggles of mothers, especially single parents, against the welfare and legal authorities who disqualify their motherhood.

In my talk I shall elaborate on the vulnerable situation of motherhood, in the Israeli welfare state. I shall examine the role of state authorities, especially the welfare system and the courts, in undermining disadvantaged women’s motherhood.

State authorities undermine mothers’ custodial rights over their offspring, especially through the discourse on ‘child’s wellbeing’ and ‘parental capability’, blaming mothers for physically endangering and neglecting their children. It will be argued that while the formal discourse emphasizes the value of biological motherhood, yet in practice underprivileged mothers’ custody over their offspring can be easily expropriated. Single parent mothers are a susceptible group from which babies can be taken away to adoption and their children taken to welfare institutions.

The research on ‘single parent mothers’ ignores the phenomenon of expropriating disadvantaged mothers’ parenthood by State authorities as well as the coercive means that are employed in the process. In my talk I shall propose a critical analysis of the connection between “children at risk” discourse and disadvantaged women’s motherhood.

Using a few case studies I shall try to reveal the various interests behind expropriating disadvantaged mothers’ babies and children. Among these are: welfare institutions’ owners and managements, who enjoy generous State budgets; Removing children from disadvantaged mothers enables the State to refrain from transferring subsistence allowances for children and mothers;

My presentation will be based on an auto-ethnographic study and social involvement of about 30 years, participating in single mothers’ struggles against the expropriation of their custody over their offspring.
Date: 23 February 2022, 17:00 (Wednesday, 6th week, Hilary 2022)
Speaker: Prof. Esther Hertzog (Social Anthropologist, Zefat Academic College)
Organising department: Middle East Centre
Organisers: Dr Nazila Ghanea ((Department for Continuing Education University of Oxford)), Dr Soraya Tremayne (University of Oxford), Professor Marilyn Booth (Al Saud Professor, Magdalen College)
Part of: MEC Women's Rights Research Seminars
Booking required?: Required
Booking url:
Audience: Public
Editor: Stacey Churcher