State of Israel Report of the Interministerial Committee Set Up to Examine Cults (“New Groups”) in Israel
In keeping with its policy of reprinting for wider distribution important official reports concerning cults and manipulative social influence, the CSJ is publishing an English translation of Part I of an Israeli government report on cults. (The rest of the report is currently available in Hebrew only.) The opinions expressed are those of the inter-ministerial committee that prepared the report and are not necessarily shared by the CSJ. Comments, as always, are welcome.
In February 1987 a report was submitted to the Israeli Minister of Education entitled Report Of The Interministerial Committee Set Up To Examine Cults (“New Groups”) In Israel.
The report was the result of a five-year study undertaken by a special committee appointed in February 1982 and chaired by the Deputy Minister of Education, Mrs. Miriam Glazer-Taasa, M.K. The Committee was interdisciplinary reflecting the complexity of the cult phenomenon and the fact that it touched on all aspects of life and culture. Its members comprised senior officials from the Ministries of Education, Health, Interior, Police, Justice, Religion, and Foreign Affairs, several academic sociologists, experienced professionals in mental health care, including the chief psychologist of the Israeli Defence Forces and the chief psychiatrist of the Kibbutz family health clinic service.
The impetus for the setting up of the Committee was the increasing number of inquiries and complaints concerning new groups with a religious, therapeutic, or pseudotherapeutic orientation (known popularly as “cults”), which began to reach different Israeli government offices at the beginning of the 1970s. The increased activity of the new groups in the years following led to a new wave of requests at the beginning of the 1980s from ordinary citizens touched by the phenomenon, and from different groups of professionals (doctors, psychologists, lawyers and others), who were united in their opinion that there was real cause for concern and that the matter should be the subject of official investigation. These views were reinforced by the increasing number of studies and published material on the phenomenon and the broad coverage given to the whole subject by the mass media.
The Committee’s initial brief from the Israeli Minister of Education was to examine the subject of “mystical eastern cults in Israel and to make recommendations on how to respond to the phenomenon.” This mandate was interpreted by the Committee (with the approval of the Minister) to include broadly the whole field of what was popularly known as cult activity in Israel.
The final report of the Committee consists of over five hundred pages and is divided into four parts. Part One contains a brief introduction to the cult phenomenon, a description of the work of the Committee, conclusions, and recommendations.
Part Two (entitled Appendix “A”) contains a description and analysis of the practices and ideologies of the ten cults (“new groups”) examined in detail by the Committee and includes references to documents and writings of the groups which have not previously been made available to the public. A special stress in this section is given to two major groups which are active in Israel – EST and Emin. The other groups examined are Scientology, Transcendental Meditation, Bhagwan Rajneesh, Ananda Marga, Unification Church (“Moonies”), ISKCON-International Society of Krishna Consciousness, D.L.M.-Divine Light Mission, Finger of God.
Part Three (entitled Appendix “B”) contains a legal survey of the cults and the law, as well as extracts from legal proceedings brought by one of the groups examined (EST), against the Committee.
Part Four (entitled “Bibliography) contains an extensive bibliography including a special bibliography on the cult phenomenon in general, and specific bibliographies on each of the ten groups examined by the Committee.
The following extract is an abridged translation of Part One of the Report.
Background to the Work of the Committee
Introduction to the Cult Phenomenon
Branches of new international organizations have been active in Israel since the beginning of the seventies. These organizations have a quasi-religious, quasi-therapeutic orientation and offer those who join happiness, tranquility, meaning and purpose. At times the price of salvation is expressed in an apparent change in personality and identity. At others, it is translated into substantial sums of money, and frequently it is a combination of both. Among the general public in Israel and abroad these organizations are viewed as mystical cults. Some academics, researchers, and different official bodies include these groups under the heading “new religious movements” or “new salvation groups”. Others call them “destructive cults”. The European Parliament gave them the title “new organizations acting under the protection given to religious bodies.”
Mystical cults, different religious movements, and therapeutic, scientific or popular schools of thought which promise more happiness to mankind and/or salvation to the world are not a new phenomenon in world history. They have appeared in some form or other more or less continuously on the world stage, and are still appearing. Some find their niche within the existing culture or even bring about a fundamental change in it. Others disappear as quickly as they came, with or without leaving their mark.
The confrontation between the esoteric and the dominant culture is an ancient one. In modern democratic society, which looks favorably on change and innovation that encourages tolerance and openness, the edge of this confrontation is usually blunted. Innovations in most areas of science, religion, psychology, literature, and art may be accepted enthusiastically or may be treated with indifference or derision — but nobody is likely to mount the barricades on their account. Esoteric and religious ideas (no matter how strange and off-beat they may be), a different way of life and even withdrawal from the mainstream, and distancing from previous frames of reference, although they might cause pain and sorrow to the families concerned, do not invite public censure.
The unique character of modern democratic society, however, is anchored in the delicate balance between dynamic pluralism (a mix of varied and continually changing sets of opinions and beliefs), and a small immutable core of common values which guarantee its existence — values which ensure optimal justice and liberty, which preserve individual worth of a human being and which guarantee the continuity of a society interested in creativity and progress. It seems that only an innovation that appears to endanger all of this may rouse people from all sections of society from their indifference, and lead to a struggle for legitimacy.
The subject of cults caught public attention when there appeared in the foreign press news about groups falling afoul of the law, in particular concerning tax evasion, illegal immigration, trafficking in and use of dangerous drugs, accumulation of weapons and unauthorized military exercises, deception in collecting financial contributions, and violence against dissidents within the groups as well as against outside critics. This negative picture was strengthened by reports of cult members committing suicide apparently as a result of their involvement in this or that group and of reports of psychological problems and difficulties in the readjustment of ex-members to society, for which there was no adequate therapeutic response. Attempts to bring group members back to society and family by kidnaping, as well as ex-members’ suing cults for deception and psychological damage, also brought the subject to the forefront of public debate.
Many noted the unusual combination of factors characterizing the phenomenon, a combination which made categorization difficult within known social and cultural categories. Among the new groups were those with a radical outlook acting like religious or political avant garde groups interested in inheriting the world. Yet unlike previous radical groups, they took pains to hide and camouflage not only their activities and events, but also their aims and ideology. They claimed that they wanted the very good which society wanted for itself and asked to be accepted as innovators in certain areas of religion, therapy, science, etc. The totalism (significant influence on each and every detail of man’s life) which characterized involvement in such groups, and the combination of “holy therapy” with intensity of economic commercial activity, added many more question marks.
Defenders of the new groups – see for example Wallis (0.5), Barker (0.8), Bromley and Shupe (0.4), Robbins and Anthony (0.9) – claim that if there is any innovation it is only for the good. People with severe psychological problems find shelter in such frameworks, which provide a better solution than hospitalization. The groups sometimes also help to wean drug addicts off their addiction. Those with no psychological problems even though they change their orientation and way of life, do not suffer substantial change in their mental balance. Changes in identity and personality which do not impair overall functioning are not the concern of democratic society. The same holds true for the amount of resources, time, money, etc. which a person is willing to devote to the group. They are happy and functioning, say the defenders, and that is what is important. Futhermore, claim the defenders, the flourishing of the groups proves that joining is an attractive proposition, the price of which (if any) would appear to be reasonable.
In our modern pluralistic world, with no center and with a fluid hierarchy of values and norms, one cannot talk about a balance sheet of profit and loss of those who join the groups or of the society at large. One cannot talk about the reasonableness of the price that both the individual and the society should pay. Reasonableness in this case is a completely subjective matter. Democratic society, claim the defenders, should not stand in the way of an individual’s salvation, no matter what form it takes. To the extent that these groups or their members break the law they should be dealt with according to the existing laws and procedures. Not only should society refrain from legislating special laws which limit the activities of these groups, but it is unacceptable that official bodies should interfere in any way (information, education, etc.) with the development of any cultural innovation.
Critics of the new groups — Delgado (0.69), Clark (0.52), Appel (0.10), Singer (0.41) — counter as follows. These groups loftily proclaim the mainstream values of society and demand that their own expansion and very existence be guaranteed by virtue of the right of freedom of choice and belief. Furthermore, they claim to offer those who join their ranks more freedom, realization of self, etc. In fact, say the critics, the new groups in no way create the conditions compatible with such a world view. The structure, ideology, and instruction techniques of the groups often lead to a substantial narrowing of freedom of choice and to what seems to be an increasing enslavement to the group and its leaders. The individual who becomes involved adopts, usually without being aware, new norms of behavior and a new world view which are not compatible with the core values of the society. Furthermore, the values of the group are being transferred to the next generation, to the children of such groups, whether or not they live in communes or closed communities.
The critique of the new groups indicates that the overall harm caused by such groups is greater than the benefit they may bring:
- Even without taking into account the result of different research on the subject it seems that the prospect of improving mental balance, (whether or not concerning those with psychological problems) is smaller than the real risk of harm or deterioration being caused to an individual’s personality, especially in light of the fact that the groups use an intensive system of techniques which is applied indiscriminately by non-professional people.
- The claim that people with severe psychological problems find shelter in such groups is not true. The groups avoid recruiting very problematic people and with no hesitation will even throw out from their ranks those members whose condition has deteriorated while with the group.
- Feelings of happiness or demonstration of such feelings do not necessarily indicate a better mental balance. The capacity to function within specific roles and frameworks does not indicate that there is no change for the worse in the general ability to function.
- Even when there is no real impairment in functioning and mental balance, there is, in any case, a worrying change in the individuality of the person, and parallel danger of substantial erosion of the core values of democratic society.
The activities of these groups have been discussed at official and at governmental levels in various locations throughout the world. In Australia, for example, in 1964 the government authorities of the State of Victoria set up a commission of inquiry regarding Scientology (“The Anderson Commission”). Following the recommendations made by the Commission, legislation was passed which placed severe limits on the activities of this organization. In 1971 the British Parliament assigned the preparation of an exhaustive report about Scientology to a Member of Parliament, Sir John Foster. The report recommended certain changes in legislation. In 1970 the government of Ontario, Canada, set up a committee to investigate groups practicing techniques of therapy and hypnotherapy (0.74). A decade later the Ontario government initiated a further report discussing the subject of new groups. In the United States public discussions were held at the initiative of legislatures in the States of New York, California, Vermont and Massachusetts (0.80; 0.76; 0.77; 0.79).
In 1978, the American House of Representatives examined the activities of the Unification Church (Moon) and in 1979 a special House committee investigated the Jonestown Incident involving the mass suicide committed by the followers of Jim Jones in Guyana (0.82). In 1984 the Committee for Youth, Culture and Education of the European Parliament prepared a report about “the new religious movements” within the European Community (0.83). The full parliament ratified the report and passed a special resolution advocating a uniform policy regarding the handling of these groups. The resolution contained a proposed set of voluntary codes of conduct to be adopted by the groups. A report concerning the new groups has also recently been submitted to the president of France (0.85).
Scrutiny of two of the most significant reports gives an idea of the range of topics discussed in these official investigations. Upon the completion of his report about Scientology, Sir John Foster draws two general conclusions: a) legislation must be passed to regulate mental health therapy involving a fee, as those in need of such treatment may be exploited by persons lacking the appropriate education and skills and who are neither bound nor committed to a professional code of ethics; b) various groups enjoy tax exemptions as a result of being recognized as a charity or public institution, while the impression exists that the status granted to them is incompatible with the obvious commercial nature of their activity. Each application for the granting of such status should therefore be carefully examined, as well as suitable amendments made to the tax laws.
The report of the European Parliament (0.83) reveals that some of the organizations included in “the new organizations active under the protective cover conferred upon religious entities” conceal their identity and doctrines, do not allow the potential member enough time to consider what is entailed in the pending involvement, prevent by various means personal and written contact with family, friends, etc., do not permit adequate medical and mental care and/or legal assistance, occasionally incite members to break the law in various fields, and harass those who leave or consider leaving them.
The majority of individuals joining the new groups are from an educated middle-class background. The percentage of Jews outside Israel joining the cults is many times greater than their proportion in the general population (0.29; 0.28). Some of those joining are in a state of ongoing mental despair in search of a substitute reality and clear-cut solution to life. Some of them wander among the various groups trying different solutions. Other new members (according to some sources, these are the majority) are young and suffer from no obvious mental disorder. They may be going through a temporary crisis of sorts, a transitional period, or struggling with normal developmental changes. Certain character traits, if present, make an individual a prime target for recruitment: a tendency to be dependent, an undeveloped analytical ability, difficulty coping with vague and insecure situations, a natural capacity to enter dissociative states with relative ease (state of trance, hypnosis, meditation, etc.). It is worth stressing that the conversion procedures employed by some of the new groups can affect even those who don’t have such a particular background (0.10; 0.40; 0.41; 0.52; 0.69).
One of the studies (0.40 p. 12) indicates that a small group of joiners occasionally reaches positions of authority and leadership, and are described as “having sociopathic tendencies who see membership in a group as an opportunity to legitimize deviant behavior”. Nevertheless, it should be noted that most of the members in the new groups act in good faith from an honest conviction in the rightness of their ways. For them association with the new group is very significant and sometimes irreplaceable. The sincerity of the members, does not, however, necessarily reflect upon the degree of sincerity or the nature of the leaders’ intentions.
A considerable number of the groups which are the focal point of public controversy are extremely sensitive to criticism and systematically attempt to undermine the credibility of almost any criticism raised against them. At times they invest a great deal of effort and resources in this activity. Within this context they put on showy campaigns with the aim of creating and promoting a positive image (for example, sponsoring international conferences of spiritualism, culture, and science). They initiate legal proceedings against journalists, investigators, and various public bodies, alleging defamation regardless of whether they have any basis or chance of winning.
Some initiate and commission research to be carried out about themselves — but don’t always expose all the relevant facts and/or permit free access to people, places, events, documents, and papers. Others do not cooperate at all and take special care to ward off any curious or inquisitive investigator. Screening of information and preservation of secrecy are often the fundamentals of the ideology and practice of the new groups.
The successful struggle over their image has led to a situation in which the facts and testimonies gathered, as well as the results of studies performed by impartial researchers, are perceived by some of the public as biased and unobjective. Furthermore, some of the groups malign the sources of any critical information, suggesting they originate from interested parties such as “injured” relatives, malcontent drop-outs, or psychologists and psychiatrists “protecting” the status of their profession.
It must be stated that there is, however, a hard core of facts the reliability of which cannot be easily undermined: legal decisions, official reports, documents and writings of groups, accumulative and substantiating reports in the media, and articles by doctors, psychologists, and other professionals — often dealing with the same facts and corroborating one another. Nevertheless, it is true that difficulties exist on certain issues concerning the phenomenon, due to the scarcity of facts and research, and because some facts may be interpreted in differing or even opposing ways depending on the prevailing set of values of the interpreter.
The accumulated material regarding the new groups reveals that the phenomenon is multi-faceted and complex. The groups can be categorized by various criteria, such as: ideological sources (Eastern/Western); self-definition of the groups (religious, therapeutic, scientific, political, etc.); central ideological themes (which do not always concur with the groups’ declared goals/definitions); the degree of secrecy and screening of information; the nature and quantity of conversion techniques; the nature of the hierarchy and authority; lifestyle (communal or dispersed living arrangements); extent of economic power; the organizational structure (small/large; local/international); and so on.
The degree of attention paid to the various characteristics and the way in which each group combines these characteristics depends, by the very nature of things, on the field of interest of the author and on the goal of any research or analysis. In books and publications dealing with new groups various focal points can be found. Some concentrate on the description of a particular group or on the effect involvement in a group has on the individual, others examine the phenomenon as a whole and strive to reach a definition and an exhaustive description of its essence. There are those who attempt to reveal what the groups have in common and those who try to uncover the differences.
The wealth of material written on the subject concentrates on two major themes: a) the description and analysis of particular groups; b) generalized analyses of the groups’ activities and of their influence on the individual involved. Attempts to find a common denominator for the wide spectrum of new groups (religious and pseudo-religious) which have appeared in the last few decades, have often generated broad generalizations. These generalizations neglected the uniqueness of the groups whose arrival and activity created at the time a sense of mystery, fear, and a need for special terminology. Efforts have been made to comprehend the differences between the various new groups within the framework of a general theory that purportedly relates to all of the characteristics and to their reciprocal impact. These have not yet yielded results which are likely to assist an individual investigator of the phenomenon wanting to know whether there is an ongoing or potential violation of the basic values of the culture in which we live.
The literature analyzing the new groups (from a general perspective) interprets their growth against the background of man’s condition in modern society. Fundamental questions dealing with existence, values and morality, which in the past were resolved, even if only partially, in the context of the traditional religions, have surfaced with added force with the erosion of the status of these religions. People, particularly the young, have difficulty coping with the complexity of the new relationship between the individual and society in a pluralistic culture and finding a solution to their individual problems. The advantage of new groups over alternatives (either within traditional religious or conventional therapeutic frameworks, or involving personal search in various other directions) is to be found in the fact that they are unfamiliar, different, and therefore more attractive and promising, yet at the same time organized and readily available.
Some of those dealing with the subject point out in any case that some groups have significantly expanded and grown (both numerically and in economic power) in a short period relative to other new groups. The intensive use of a range of persuasive means — psychological, communicative and other techniques (including fraud and screening information from the recruit) — is in their opinion the main reason for this success. (0.16; 0.38; 0.89; 0.91).
At present, approximately 20 new groups with pseudoreligious or pseudotherapeutic orientation are active in Israel — many of which have drawn public attention throughout the world. Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in colorful attire sing and dance in the streets of Tel Aviv. Scientology, which claims that it can enhance learning and human relations, has been allowed access to the educational system in various places in this country. Transcendental meditation is popularly conceived as no more than an effective technique to relieve tension and improve one’s general health. Organized groups of employees from state institutions have participated in courses and workshops of EST. Members of the Emin clean up historical sites, distribute coffee to weary drivers, and present, in lectures to the public, “a new path to values”.
Various bodies in Israel who came in direct contact with one group or another began to have serious doubts regarding the portraits these groups drew of themselves. Parents who felt that “they had lost their children” (adults) sought help, searched for an address, and established “the Organization of Concerned Parents against Cults”. Social workers, physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists who came in contact with various and perhaps less well-known aspects of the phenomenon began to voice warnings that there is a real basis for concern. The orthodox Jewish organization “A Hand To Brothers” is active distributing information and extending assistance to those involved and to their families. The kibbutz movement carries out preventive activities and gives consultation and treatment to victims and their families within the framework of “the Child and Family Care Clinic” affiliated with the Kibbutz College and within the framework of the “department for drugs, alcohol and cults” of the United Kibbutz Movement.
The increased activity of the groups and the counter-activity of various individuals and organized bodies made it a public issue in Israel. The Interministerial Committee Set Up To Examine Cults (“New Groups”) In Israel was convened in the midst of and as a direct result of such public
The Work of the Committee
The initial sessions of the Committee were devoted to delineating its fields of activity and studying the evidence and the material which had accumulated in the various ministries. In the course of these meetings the Committee had to cope with the expression “Oriental mystical cults” (which appeared in the Committee’s mandate) and with the essence of the phenomenon this expression related to. It became clear in the course of these discussions that:
- The expression “Oriental mystical cults” is only one of many other titles and names which help the public, the press, and various research and State bodies (in Israel and in the world) to relate to similar, if not precisely overlapping, groupings of new groups which bear pseudoreligious and pseudotherapeutic characteristics. In the titles of the various groupings the term “cults” sometimes appears, on its own or accompanied by various descriptions — “radical cults”, “new cults” — and sometimes it is omitted, as in “new controversial movements”, “new religious movements”, and “radical factions”. (0.8; 0.15; 0.25; 0.37).
- Oriental mysticism is not a distinguishing characteristic of all the new groups mentioned and in any case it is of no central relevance from the viewpoint of a democratic society.
- In the literature dealing with the subject, there is no precise definition of the phenomenon nor definition or outline of the exact boundaries of the groups being discussed. Even worse, no definition acceptable to all or most of the professionals from the various relevant disciplines can be found. An outline of clusters of characteristics is presented in various publications and studies, which are supposed to describe the phenomenon as a whole, but in fact not one of these aggregates of characteristics is applicable, in its entirety, to the new groups as a whole.
- The composition and resources of the Committee (which is only an examining committee and not a research team) do not enable it to reach a general, exhaustive, and encompassing theoretical explanation of the phenomenon, nor a precise definition or understanding of the general essence of any group; this matter is a topic for research in other frameworks.
Despite these difficulties, which hindered the definition of the of the Committee’s scope of action, a number of assumptions were made which served as a starting point:
- A distinction can be made between new groups, which aroused criticism in many and varied segments of the population (in Israel and throughout the world) and which appear in most of the mentioned groupings, and new groups which did not arouse any criticism and appear only in literature dealing with new religions or new therapeutic methods.
- On the surface there exists a principal common factor characterizing groups which evoke criticism. In each of these groups there is a disquieting combination of some sort (an interactive combination unique to each group) of elements or factors which, even when appearing separately or in other social contexts, are cause for concern to the public at large, specifically those elements in the ideology and practices of these groups (such as intolerance, fraud, injury to health and to personality) which are inconsistent with the common value system uniting a modern, democratic, heterogeneous society and guiding its systems of education, law, and mental health.
- It is apparent that the new groups which evoked criticism strive and work towards maximum expansion. Most of them also maintain a high degree of secrecy, blur their identity, and claim to have a secret “know-how” which cannot be understood without experiencing it.
Relying on these assumptions the Committee decided to include new groups in its examination according to the following principles:
- New groups bearing a pseudo-religious, pseudo-therapeutic orientation which evoked criticism in diverse segments of the population, and in which a disquieting combination of factors apparently exists as mentioned above (irrespective of whether or not they are called “cults” or are characterized by what is called “oriental mysticism”). This is conditional upon the fact that these groups are particularly active in Israel or their international activity has direct influence on Israeli citizens.
- Particularly groups as stated in paragraph (1) above, on which one or more of the following apparently exist:
- They have a high concentration of disquieting factors
- The disquieting factors are characterized by extreme radicalism.
- The combination unique to them (an exclusive combination) may contribute to comprehension of the phenomenon in general.
- Despite the fact that they strive for maximal expansion — they disguise their identity, maintain secrecy, claim occult knowledge, and do not state exactly what the theory or the philosophy is that they convey and in what ways they apply it.
The minister of Education and Culture ratified this clarification of the mandate given the Committee.
The groups investigated by the committee were: Scientology; The Center for Dianetics; EST; The Israel Center for Breakthrough; Emin; Dimension for Progressive Knowledge; Transcendental Meditation (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi); Bhagwan Rajneesh; Ananda Marga; Unification Church (“Moonies”); The International Society for Krishna Consciousness; The Divine Light Mission (Guru Maharaj-ji); The Finger of God (Reena Shani). Moreover, it was agreed that the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee would relate to the subject in its entirety and would be presented in general form — even if based principally on concrete examples drawn from the groups specifically investigated by the Committee.
Due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue of the multitude of headings and titles associated with the societal elements being discussed, the Committee had difficulty in deciding on the terminology in this report. “Cults” and “new salvation groups,” which were suggested, were not accepted, and it was unanimously decided to use the term “new groups”. This term does not serve to designate the time of appearance of the relevant bodies, but rather indicates that it is a phenomenon which is difficult to classify, being a novelty in each of the recognized disciplines (religion, therapy, science, etc.). What is apparently at issue is an essential novelty, the nature of which will become clear only following comprehensive and intensive research after conditions enabling free access to all the facts are created.
In the course of clarifying the boundaries of its activity and in the light of the direction which crystallized, the Committee discussed whether it should also include in its examination groups belonging to the “Back to Religion” or the “Hazara Betshuvah” movement. A number of Committee members were of the opinion that there is no similarity between the matters. Others held the view that there are parallels. The Committee decided by a majority vote, that although there are a few parallels between the activity of some “Back to Religion” groups and that of the new groups, these similarities were not sufficient to justify inclusion of the subject in the scope of the Committee’s investigation.
The Committee made great efforts to enable any party interested in the issue to appear before it or, if preferred, to meet with its representatives. Notices were published in the press in which those interested were called upon to make contact with the Committee. All the groups examined were granted the opportunity to appear before the Committee and to make their own presentation.
The Committee heard testimonies of members and ex-members of the new groups, of official representatives of some of the groups, spokesmen, leaders, etc., of parents and relatives of members, of professionals in the field of mental health, and of representatives of bodies and institutions having some connection to the matter (local councils, local parent committees, the Organization of Concerned Parents, representatives of the United Kibbutz Movement, the Child and Family Care Clinic, and representatives of Hand for Brothers.) In addition, meetings were held with people from the Jewish American Task Force (The task force is a joint body of the various streams of Judaism in the U.S.A. and deals with education, information, and granting assistance on this issue to families. Its representatives, Dr. Lachman and Attorney Rosedale, visited Israel and met with members of the Committee). Individual members of the Committee who deal with the various aspects of the subject by virtue of their regular position/work, presented facts and evaluations to the Committee.
In the course of its work the Committee encountered various difficulties arising from the limited resources at its disposal, the inherent problems of certain research topics in the field, and difficulties involved with the special nature of the subject under investigation.
While gathering the information, an attempt was made to collect the most diversified material possible (as regards its sources and nature), although the Committee was unable and never intended to cover everything existing on the subject. The material gathered includes studies, reports of investigative commissions or inquiries abroad, law reports, press clips (investigative reports, interviews, news items, readers’ letters etc.) from Israel and abroad, as well as writings, documents, and publications of the groups themselves. Considering the close ties between the groups in Israel and the international organizations to which they belong, the Committee attached particular importance to the information amassed abroad which was brought before it.
There were special difficulties in the gathering and examination of local, up-to-date data that were dependent on sources associated with the groups themselves. Witnesses feared exposure, and access to activities and meetings of the groups, as well as their documents, was occasionally obstructed. Cooperation of most of the groups’ leaders was only partial, and some even refused to appear before the Committee (for example, Scientology). Others (Emin, Transcendental Meditation, and EST, though the latter initially refused) cooperated, making extensive, although carefully edited, presentations of their own viewpoint.
Despite the limitations mentioned above the Committee believes that the abundance of material and testimonies examined by it enabled it to deal adequately, if not exhaustively, with the central issues relevant to a pluralistic, democratic society.
Some of the material presented before the Committee is reflected in Appendix A of this report; the space devoted in Appendix A to the various groups does not necessarily indicate the extent of the material gathered about any individual group nor the degree of attention paid to any specific group in the Committee’s discussions. The information which appears in the appendixed material relates to reports, studies, and testimonies gathered by the Committee, as well as to the Committee’s contacts with various groups. The background material does not provide complete and comprehensive information about any specific group and is presented only to illuminate and to illustrate the conclusions. Not every detail or interpretation appearing in it reflects the position of the Committee.
The Committee focused on the question whether the ideology and the practices of the new groups reviewed clearly revealed values inconsistent with the core value system that unites democratic pluralism and preserves its existence. In addition, it discussed appropriate governmental responses for dealing with this phenomenon. Although the Committee discussed each group individually and examined the combination of disquieting factors distinctive to each one, it was decided that in the conclusions, an attempt would be made to expose, as much as possible, a representative range of those factors from all the groups reviewed and without reference to any specific group.
The Committee isolated five areas in which most of the disquieting factors could be found: a) health b) consumerism c) the relationship between the individual and society d) tolerance and democratic values e) economic activity. The conclusions presented in this chapter relate to these areas.ÿ_ÿ_It should be noted that not all the disquieting factors are present in each group. The intention of these conclusions is to draw attention to phenomena, which, if present in sufficient quantity in any group, must evoke concern, and to indicate possible means for examining and evaluating new groups and organizations.
The salvation promised in the new groups includes, in some cases, physical and spiritual recovery and the transfer of supernatural or superhuman powers/qualities. Physical health is often defined in the new groups as dependent upon purity of the soul, and mental health is defined as a consequence of heeding the dictates of the group or of following the path laid out by its leaders. In some of the groups there is opposition to conventional mental therapy, and the attitude towards the accepted principles of medicine may be one of contempt and scorn.
Members of these groups are often denied adequate mental, psychological, or psychiatric care, and in some of the groups ordinary physical medical care is not given. There are reasonable grounds for the claim that the groups often show contempt for elementary rules of preventive medicine.
In some of these groups techniques and means are employed which by themselves have direct influence on the mental state and on the personality in general. These techniques and means are employed on all the new recruits/members, apparently regardless of the individual starting point and without consideration of potential risks.
Most of the instructors in the new groups are not skilled professionals in the discipline of mental health and are not capable of discerning potential damage which may be caused by their actions. There are a number of known cases of hospitalization and severe mental reactions among members in these groups.
There are reasons to believe that actions of a direct and specific medical/therapeutic nature, such as hypnosis, are employed in some of these groups in conjunction with many other methods of acculturation, such as: group pressure, physical and cultural isolation (no newspapers, books, TV, etc.), physiological deprivation (little food or sleep), conceptual confusion (the use of a private esoteric vocabulary which distorts the accepted meaning of words and concepts), “noise” immersion (speeches, tapes, conversations and “confessions”), screening of information (on the way to achieving acculturation), fraudulent philosophy (towards the recruit), and more. Some of these means, even if each one on its own does not carry the potential for a significant change in mental balance and personality, may, when activated simultaneously at a high intensity, be a contributing and triggering element in such a metamorphosis. If these methods involve hypnosis or psychological treatment applied by unqualified individuals, then this is a violation of the law.
Family and friends of cult members told the Committee that when they tried to talk with relatives and friends involved in these groups, in order to ascertain the change in their lives and the ideology guiding their new direction, they often came up against a blank wall. Very long repetitious speeches containing little information, repeating themselves time and again, or containing a collection of ideas which seemed confused and baffling were a common occurrence. When conversation did occur, it was characterized by a lack of responsiveness (irrelevant answers), lack of reaction to new information, impatience, a monotone response to emotional stimuli, and prolonged obtuseness or, alternatively, sustained euphoria. This condition was broken when skepticism or criticism was expressed, which in turn often evinced anger and/or blunt accusations and/or cutting off contact.
What some of the groups describe as eternal happiness, ultimate serenity, security, and the fulfillment of personal potential, is often described by the critics of these groups as a worrying metamorphosis of the personality.
Published studies of mental health professionals who succeeded in making contact with members of some groups report cases of loss of autonomy and regression to extreme dependence, use of rigid thought patterns (perception of the world in terms of black and white), “loaded” words having simplistic, one-dimensional and rigid meaning, loss of ego boundaries, dimming of the boundary between reality and imagination, passivity and indifference regarding anything which does not directly concern the dictates of the group. Psychopathological disturbances — including dissociative states, obsessions, hallucinations and other symptoms, such as psychosomatic phenomena including lack of menstruation, sexual dysfunctioning, skin ailments etc., were reported as well, although at a lower frequency, (0.38; 0.39; 0.40; 0.41; 0.70).
From the studies published to date it is not possible to create a precise picture of the correlation between specific symptoms and specific groups. It is only possible to state that various aggregates of the changes mentioned here are related to many and varied segments of the population of members in the groups. Most of the professionals do not deny the existence of these changes; the disputes among them relate to the proportion of harm caused to the population of recruits, the extent of harm in each individual, and intra-group variance. Nevertheless, there are those who believe that, when dealing with joiners who were initially in a difficult mental state, perhaps the price paid for their happiness should be viewed positively.
Others stress the fact that 50-70 percent of the recruits were not in need of any mental treatment prior to their membership in the group and therefore, metamorphoses in personality of the type described should be regarded as a heavy and unnecessary price to pay. Furthermore, one must take into account that it is reasonable to assume that, had these recruits known in advance the nature of the “existential condition” they would reach, perhaps they would have avoided joining in the first place (see further 2.2.2 The Section on Consumerism).
Another phenomenon pointed out by psychologists and psychiatrists is the difficulty some group dropouts have in returning to normal life. This is a difficulty which apparently derives both from the extreme transition entailed in the return, as well as the scarcity of professional knowledge regarding appropriate methods of treatment. The condition of some of these dropouts is not easy. Some describe their condition as floating between two worlds (0.56; 0.60) — a condition which may last a long time. Others detail the specific problems which arise with precision: prolonged depression; dual guilt feelings — both towards the group which was left, and towards the family and the society to which they wish to return; extreme insecurity and loss of confidence in the capacity to distinguish between good and bad; frequent outbursts of anger; low threshold of tolerance for stressful situations and frustration; difficulties in self-expression and independent thought; continuous fear of the magical influence of the thoughts and intentions of other people and of events in the outside world; and compulsive notions of suicide.
Professionals in mental health and related disciplines apparently still have difficulty placing the phenomenon within a theoretical framework and giving it a logical explanation, something which would provide an appropriate answer to those new group dropouts in need of help.
It is possible to discern two main categories of deceit: actions defined by law as fraud, and actions which, even if not legally defined as an offense, do involve some exploitation of the sensitive realm of goodwill and faith in others. Most of the phenomena which will be presented in this section fall within the second category. It would seem that in a society which is not essentially based on coercion, this sort of activity should be regarded with grave concern when systematically performed by a group in an organized fashion and directed at a broad target populace. Since it has not yet been determined who is more or less likely to join the new groups, the public at large is here regarded as potential consumers, and the recruits at different stages of membership as consumers.
Particularly conspicuous is the practice of some of the groups of collecting funds from the public on false pretenses. Members of some of the groups collect donations for their organization without really identifying themselves, or stating some imaginary humanitarian cause (for example, alleged help to refugees). This sort of deception is frequently justified by the group on the basis of its ideology. Most of the groups withhold information from the public at large, from potential recruits, and in not a few cases from some of the group members as well. The information is camouflaged and exposed selectively to different people.
Camouflaging of information is performed in two main spheres: a) the ideological-moral contents of the group, its nature, its essence, and its aims, and b) the practice and learning methodology used by the group. This situation makes obtaining true information about a group almost impossible. Even if the Committee does not think that secrecy in itself is wrong, there are reasonable grounds to assume that the groups use this secrecy to mislead potential recruits and to attract them to stay for a prolonged period in the group whilst withholding true information of the nature and duration of this stay. The recruit is actually deprived of the ability to make an objective decision regarding his future.
Although secrecy and withholding of information may characterize other organizations as well, these phenomena are emphasized in this section because extending the ranks (recruiting new members) is an important and central task or mission of all of the new groups and because, in a considerable number of cases, the recruits pay for the “services” they receive. In the Committee’s view, the potential consumer has a cardinal right to know what it is that he is buying when speaking of courses and activities for a fee. This also applies to groups which charge a fee in the form of membership dues.
In cultivating the desired image, some of the groups deliberately create obscurity in the way they represent themselves to the public at large. They describe themselves variously as religions, sciences, applied philosophies, study groups, therapy groups, social revolutionaries, or any combination of the above. Moreover, the same groups may present themselves in different ways to different audiences.
The course of a member’s progress in a new group is often characterized by screening of information relating to the essence of the ideology, learning, and practice procedures, the degree and the nature of future involvement, duration of involvement, and amount of monetary resources which will be required. All these, or a part of them, are revealed gradually, at different stages of membership. “Study material” and ideas and techniques related to what the group calls “more advanced stages” are deliberately concealed. Secrecy within the groups is maintained not only by means of formal barriers, but also as a result of the pressure for selective secrecy among the members at various stages of progress.
American legal authority R. Delgado (0.70), and other individuals studying the phenomenon claim that the screening of information as such is only one aspect of a more complex process. The knowledge imparted (or received) is reinforced throughout the course of the conversion process in an inverse proportion to the individual’s analytical capacity. The more his mental and intellectual resistance wears down, so another horizon of the group’s ideology is revealed to him and the demand for involvement is increased. The decrease in analytical capacity is brought about, according to this theory, through the operation of a specific combined set of intensively employed techniques. The assertion put forth is that since the information given and the ability to make judgments are the main elements of conscious acceptance, the conversion process should not be perceived as “a voluntary act”. According to this approach, what is actually at issue is a case of double deceit: what is concealed from the recruit are not only central portions of the group’s ideology, but the meaning and object of the exercises in which he participates from the start — a meaning and an object which are not apparent to one who is not professionally trained.
The Committee is aware of the considerable similarity existing between commonly accepted methods of mental therapy and some of the therapeutic educational services offered in the framework of the above mentioned organizations. Within this context situations may evolve in which the consumers lack the tools required to examine and evaluate the nature of the therapeutic/educational services given them. These services usually are not rendered by competent professionals recognized in their discipline, but by individuals who are not under the supervision of any accepted regulatory system in our society.
Some of the new groups have established front organizations, both for the purpose of recruiting members and as a means for promoting public relations and raising funds. By careful use of names and public presentation that camouflage their real identity, these groups act in the name of widely accepted ideals coupled with misleading claims. A number of groups invite, at their own expense, noted public figures and representatives of the media to conferences on subjects of science and humanities. Their main object is apparently to make connections which may benefit them in the future and improve their image.
It should be noted, however, that a few groups do indeed contribute to accepted social and public causes.
The Relationship Between the Individual and Society
Partial or total dissociation from previous reference groups or from cultural roots is a common phenomenon in the history of mankind, and in particular in the modern era. The transition from one stage to another in the cycle of life (from childhood through adulthood to old age) is accompanied in various cultures by signs of breaking away of one sort or another. The young boy undergoing initiation rites may leave his mother and her children and move in with the men. A woman who has come of age and marries may leave her family and sometimes even her tribe, her people, and her previous place of inhabitance. Natural disasters, wars, cultural revolutions, and social changes have from time immemorial caused the upheaval of social structures and the distancing of family. Young Zionists who immigrated to Israel abandoned their culture, language, parents, and families.
In the new groups, the break is not only a by-product of the individual’s moving from one culture to another. Some of the groups deliberately create the break as part of their policy, as a means, or as a goal. The recruit’s communication channels are gradually blocked and neutralized, and increasingly replaced by communication channels within the new group. This process can be achieved both by physical severance (for example, isolation, monopolizing the individual’s time) as well as psychological and communicative methods. Obviously, the danger of this process is that the individual’s capacity to judge, his autonomy, and his ability to make a choice may be significantly impaired.
In some of the new groups it is possible to talk of a state of complete and utter break between the individual who joins and previous social groupings. The greater the break from previous natural reference groups, the more the individual is assimilated into the new group. We are witness to a combination, in varying proportions in each group, of different kinds of severance. The severance, even if only temporary, may in certain cases cause difficulties in the relationship between the individual and his family and make it more difficult for the individual who wishes to leave the group and return to former frameworks. This severance also erodes the moral-cultural-communicative basis common to members of the society at large. Veteran members in the new groups may develop commitment and primary allegiance to the group or organization and its leader(s). This phenomenon has special significance as most of these groups are affiliated with international organizations and leaders abroad.
The Committee views with particular concern evidence brought before it concerning certain cases in which a group took special measures to prevent contact between a member and his natural family (when the latter was suspected of trying to influence him or her to return to the former environment). Members were moved around from place to place and knowledge of their whereabouts was denied.
The Committee also notes with concern that some groups resort to psychological pressure to dissuade members from dropping out. The individual who does not leave has to cope with repeated reproaches, with inducements, and sometimes with veiled threats as well. Not everyone is capable of coping single-handedly with this difficult and harassing situation.
Tolerance and Democratic Values
In some of the new groups that have branches and extensions in Israel, there is evidence not only of intolerance towards those outside but also sometimes towards members of the group itself. Although in Israel there is no clear-cut evidence of use of violence, it is known that some groups abroad have resorted to violence directed outward and inward.
Some of the new groups demand almost total obedience and submission to acceptance of authority. It should be noted that this, together with the authoritarian hierarchic structure of some of the new groups combined with a model of charismatic leadership, can lead to a situation in which members of certain groups resort to action which negates accepted social values and laws (for example, fraud, violence, drug offenses, and in extreme cases even suicide).
The demand for almost total subservience to authority and the various methods employed to achieve these may cause a change in personality and lead to suppression of critical ability. Demands of this kind indicate a world view which actually abrogates the value of personal freedom and autonomy, values which are fundamentals of western democracy and which demands of its citizens mutual tolerance and the preservation of freedom of belief and thought.
It should be mentioned that the critics of some of these groups claim that members may reach a state of total enslavement together with nearly blind obedience to the leaders of the group. These critics go so far as to point out that as a result of this metamorphosis, group dropouts may support totalitarian movements with relative case.
Those who object to this criticism state that some group members manage to maintain their own identity and autonomy and sometimes even become better citizens. Furthermore, they note that it is the individual’s right in a democratic state to choose the lifestyle he sees fit (including one in which he must forego his personal autonomy and freedom) and that the connection between members of these groups and genuine support of a totalitarian regime has not been proven.
The Committee members are of the belief that the dangers to democratic values, as described above, must give rise to concern. The public should be warned against groups whose ideologies and whose means adopted to fulfill these ideologies could lead to the total enslavement of the individual to the group and to the significant impediment of his free will and capacity to choose. The public should likewise be warned against groups which advocate the destruction of democratic society or the value system upon which it is based.
Most of the new groups which are the subject of public debate have managed, within a relatively short period (either as religious or political bodies just making their first steps or as therapy groups like those of the human potential movement), to amass a great deal of wealth and property. The real estate, plants, and business enterprises they have purchased or established are generally owned by the leaders of the group or those close to them. A substantial portion of the income, whether from business or property or from contributions or tuition fees or membership dues of believers, often reaches the private bank accounts of the founding members of the group and its leaders. Sometimes this is even anchored in the ideology of the group.
Tuition fees or membership dues and contributions paid by the member to his organization often add up to considerable amounts, which increase proportionately with the length of involvement. Only a small proportion of the income is reinvested in the various projects (the study courses, workshops, classes, etc.). This is the direct outcome of a wide network of voluntary work in most of the groups (firmly rooted in the ideology), including collection of funds for the movements, recruitment and training of new recruits, and work in plants and business enterprises which appear to belong prima facie to the entire movement. Funds are invested in image-building and public relations which promote the expansion of the groups and the increased growth of the leaders’ profits. Many of the new groups have special funds which award prizes, research grants, etc. to many and varied segments of the population.
Many of the new groups have been given special tax status claiming that they function nonprofitably and for commonly accepted values and causes (religion/education/culture, etc.). They have been awarded the status of a nonprofit organization and/or a “public institution” (and their equivalents abroad). However, some cases are known in which the authorities abroad refused to grant new groups this status. Sometimes this status was even withdrawn from a branch of a group following an investigation which revealed profitable intent. New groups active in Israel with the status of a nonprofit organization strive to obtain the further status of “a public institution,” which will given them additional benefits and exemptions.
Some of the new groups are active throughout the world in a variety of forms, with some of the branches working as a business enterprise for all intents and purposes, while others hold the status of a nonprofit organization or a “public institution”. The nature of the financial connections between the former and the latter is usually concealed and very difficult to follow through (various branches of the same group may even have different statuses in the same country). In this context it should be noted that in some instances the main structures of the organization are business companies which have taken out commercial patents on the philosophies and methods of application which they market. Branches of organizations are tied to these companies through special agreements.
Additional facts which should be considered concern the common use in some groups of various financial tactics that sometimes border legitimate activity: nondeclaration of income and tax evasion, illegal transfer of monies from one country to another, and exaggerated use of tax shelters. At least one leader or founder of a group was convicted and imprisoned for tax evasion and there are present prosecutions by authorities against leaders and their followers on these issues. There are even some leaders who state when establishing their organization, that their goal is to make millions and that this is the surest and easiest way to accomplish this aim. Within this context it should once again be stressed that in some of the new groups fraudulent collection of funds holds a central place in their practice and doctrine. In others commercial success in the framework of group activity is the key to promotion in the organization’s hierarchy.
Defenders of the new groups claim that they, like any other religious/political body, need a strong economic base and that there is nothing wrong with the development and cultivation of such a base. They even refute accusations concerning the considerable gap between the extravagant and luxurious lifestyle of some of the group leaders and the austerity and asceticism practiced by members of the rank and file. Although this gap is generally anchored in the group’s ideology, there is no wrong in this, they claim, for similar phenomena can be found in other cultures as well. Furthermore, they claim, it cannot be proven that the chief object of the leaders is power and wealth and that they do not genuinely believe in their mission or that they act out of deceit and cynicism.ÿ_ÿ_Critics of the new groups counter by saying that this kind of approach only takes into account a limited number of relevant facts and gives simplistic answers to complex and complicated issues. The economic aspects of the phenomenon should not be examined without reference to its other aspects; interaction between the various elements must be considered. The proposition that there is nothing wrong in the building of a strong economic foundation by a religious/political body which is no different from other religious/political bodies is like placing the cart before the horse. These are organizations which “operate under the protection given to religious bodies,” a protection granted to them because of certain similarities to religious bodies, whereas their general identity and nature is still shrouded in a cloud of mystery, a mystery in which disquieting signals are already apparent.
The Committee is of the opinion that the fears expressed by the critics are not groundless. The Committee regards with concern the almost automatic granting of nonprofit organization and/or “public institution” status to new groups. The bestowal of this status without thorough inspection may result in the granting of tax benefits to entities whose objectives are business enterprises, as well as to the promotion of the positive image of entities whose goals and methods of operation are inconsistent with those required of a nonprofit organization or a “public institution”.
In the light of what is known about the financial behavior abroad of the groups discussed, and because their branches in Israel have widespread connections with the groups’ headquarters abroad, the Committee also concludes that thought should be given to the operation of the laws and regulations concerning foreign currency and the way the new groups active in this country abide by these laws and
Members of the Committee believe that it is the obligation of the establishment to protect freedom of faith and liberty of thought, to encourage cultural pluralism, and to ensure the possibility of the growth and existence of movements which are innovative and different.
However, no society exists in a total moral vacum. A common foundation, no matter how limited, directs in most western democracies the systems of education, law, and mental health. At the center of these lies a certain perception of the individual and the relationship between people and groups. The very belief in freedom of belief is derived from this common foundation.
In light of the above, the Committee members believe that it is the right and, moreover, the obligation of society to take a stance when actions (or organized preaching) are involved, which are opposed to the common moral foundation upon which the society is based.
The Committee members are fully aware of the extreme caution which must be exercised by those considering the limitation of freedom however small, and are convinced that adoption of a general policy that would prejudice individuals or groups must be avoided. Furthermore, the Committee feels it imperative to warn against behavior which may amount to harassment of an individual or a group due to unusual beliefs or leaders.
Although the issue of the new groups has psychological, educational, and other aspects, the Committee believes that this is primarily a social problem. Therefore, the Committee proposes that the Ministry of Labor and Welfare should be the ministry primarily charged with the handling of this problem.
The principal recommendations of the Committee deal with four main areas:
- The gathering, concentration, and distribution of information; initiation of research
- Assistance to injured parties.
The Committee tried not to recommend the setting up of new bodies, but rather reliance on existing ones.
Gathering, Concentration and Distribution of Information; Initiation of Research
- The Committee proposed the systematic gathering of comprehensive, varied, and up-to-date information on all the new groups active in Israel (whether they were included in the Committee’s examination or not), and about new groups that are prominently active abroad and have bearing on Israeli citizens. The Ministry of Labor and Welfare will be the body in charge of collecting and processing the information.
- The information (existing literature on the subject, press clips and various publications in this country and abroad) should be concentrated in a library which will be open to the public at large.
- Distribution of information: publication of articles in Hebrew; one-time publications concerning organizations and certain phenomena as well as a pamphlet with current information which will appear periodically. The material should be distributed to government ministries, various relevant bodies, and to any interested party.
- Initiation of research: there is a need for impartial research which will concentrate on the phenomenon in general and on specific aspects of it. Research on the subject from the viewpoint of different disciplines (sociology, anthropology, communications, psychology, medicine, law, economics and taxation) should be encouraged, with emphasis being placed on interdisciplinary studies. The need for a relatively quick study exists, one which would develop therapeutic and legal tools to cope with the existing problems.
Basic assumptions. The examination carried out reveals that, as a rule, the organizations openly approach only the adult population, but at times do not refrain from acting among minors of school age. In general, it seems that there is no strong inclination on the part of school-age youngsters to join the activities of these organizations (except for a number of cases in which minors brought along by their parents participated in these activities).
The source of the phenomenon in general is to be found in general social conditions and factors in our culture and our society, which aren’t usually a part of specific activity in the educational system.
The involvement of the educational system in areas of social morality can, however, strengthen the mental and spiritual fibre of the students and help them to handle pressures and influences in society at large and beyond the boundaries of school.
It is possible that at least some of those attracted to the new groups do so because of a lack of proper training of thinking or critical faculties, as well as a lack of emotional support systems in stressful situations. Therefore, primary action is important in the following areas.
- Early identification of such students, to the extent that this is possible.
- Training and reinforcement of the cognitive and emotional mechanisms among these students in particular, and among the entire student population in general.
- Training/participation of parents in the matter. Counseling and training activity as required.
There is no effective, formed, and structured system in Israel of operative programs dealing with preventive education of this sort, whether for the ordinary public or for the injured individual. There are some tested experimental programs and pointers as to methods of treatment at different levels, but these too do not necessarily deal with the defined field of “new groups,” but rather with areas having similar characteristics (such as: drugs, social pressure, advertising, and so on).
The lack of such programs is particularly conspicuous in what may be called the realm of primary prevention, which, based on the above, should be the focal point of action in the educational system and a guide to proper decision making.
The ministry responsible for the subject of education is the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Propositions for courses of action
- The Ministry of Education and Culture must prepare itself for educational activities relating to the matter at hand.
- It is recommended that this be done within the framework of existing educational programs and activities, without creating separate frameworks and programs for this issue.
- It is important that educators at different levels, educational counselors and psychologists, teachers, workers in the field of social and informal education, be the ones active in the implementation of these combined programs.
- Schools should also strive, to the fullest extent possible and in conjunction with the Government Information Center and the Ministry of Labor and Welfare, to pass on information and publicize explanatory material among parents. For this purpose the clearest, most up-to-date, comprehensive, and reliable material possible (concerning the activities of the new groups) should be brought to their attention. However, it is clear that employing educators in the implementation of the educational programs is dependent upon prior special training and on continuous instruction and support.
- In order to make progress, the following are required:
- The preparation of information and educational material, in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor and Welfare.
- Development of operative programs.
- Experimentation and follow-up.
- The training and continuous instruction of the educators at the various levels mentioned above.
- The continuous operation of supportive tools for instruction and consultation for the educators.
- The Committee wishes to stress that even when students within the context of an educational institute are the subject matter, the treatment of an injured individual must be placed in the hands of a qualified professional therapist or, if not possible, at least be directly supervised by one.
The Committee recommends that the Ministry of Education and Culture consider including the issue of new groups within the framework of its new program for the teaching of democratic values.
Assistance to Injured Parties
The population most likely to be harmed as a result of contact with the new groups includes two main groups:
- Parents and family
- Those who are directly involved in new groups (at all levels)
Parents and Family. The main recommendation in this area is that the welfare service offices attached to the ministry of Labor and Welfare and the municipal services will become an “address” for diagnosis, intervention, and guidance, to help families cope with the problem.
Members of the population with direct involvement in the new groups (at all levels). In this instance there are three potential categories of individuals needing help.
- Those inclined to join a new group, who seek help
- Group members asking for help
- Group dropouts in need of assistance
It must be emphasized that minors who are in educational frameworks will be cared for by authorities at the Ministry of Education, whereas minors who are not in school will be taken care of by authorities at the Ministry of Labor and Welfare.
From the information at our disposal it is clear that at least part of the group dropouts undergo a great deal of difficulty in functioning upon their return to society and they must be given the required aid and support.
There will also be the need for appropriate arrangements to be made to help the above-mentioned categories of individual within the framework of the mental health service. Those in need will be referred to these services on the basis of professional evaluations by workers in the welfare and education services. The Ministry of Health must reorganize in order to offer solutions to those in need by preparing skilled personnel and means for the dispensation of adequate treatment. For this purpose it is recommended that a senior official in the Ministry of Health be appointed for the coordination and handling of the subject.
The Cults, “New Groups,” and the Law
It appears that various tools already exist in existing legislation for dealing with certain phenomena present in the activity of the new groups, that appear to be harmful or which may be against the law. The most appropriate response towards activities of this sort is a vigorous enforcement of the existing laws. This will require initiative and alertness on the part of the authorities in charge of monitoring these activities.
Law enforcement. This relates in particular to the following laws:
- Consumer protection laws
- The Non-Profit Organization Law 5740-1980
- Laws and regulations in the sphere of taxation and foreign currency
- The Psychologists Law 5737-1977, and the Law for the Practice of Hypnosis 5744-1984
- The Law for Entry into Israel 5712-1952
It is recommended that the competent authorities charged with law enforcement, each in its own field, initiate an investigation which will enable the gathering of information for the purpose of enforcing those laws. If necessary, help will be supplied by the Israeli Police Force. The Israeli Police Force will arrange assistance for the required investigation.
It is our recommendation that consideration be given to the possibility of making the following amendments in the field of legislation:
- In the Ministry of Health — extending the authority of the Ministry of Health to supervise courses in which use is made of psychological techniques aimed at modifying an individual’s personality or behavior. This should be done in order to ensure that only qualified professionals are involved and in order to prevent injury to participants.
- In the Ministry of Justice — to make it a requirement for groups which attempt to recruit members from among the population at large to reveal to the recruit relevant facts such as: the true name of the group, whether the group is a branch of a larger umbrella group, and what the name of that larger group is, the aim of the group and its nature.
Non-disclosure of the above will be considered a civil wrong and/or a criminal
The preceding report received wide coverage in Israel and generally was favorably judged by the public and media. One prominent journal commented that “the work of the Committee was impressively thorough and disclosed shocking and disturbing findings. . . it should be widely distributed and read” (Koterit Rashit, February 11, 1987).
Several of the groups reacted very angrily. T.M., Emin, and EST prepared extensive written rebuttals of the Report and lobbied vigorously against dissemination and publishing of its contents.
The Minister of Education accepted the findings and recommendations of the Report in their entirety and set up a special committee to oversee the implementing of the Report’s main recommendations. This second Committee submitted its report at the end of 1987 and set out as its principal recommendation a detailed proposal for a permanent body to be set up under the patronage of the Ministry of Education called “The Centre for Preventing Harms Caused by Cults (“New Groups”),” whose principal tasks would be those recommended by the Report. The proposal envisaged a modest annual budget of about $140000.ÿ_ÿ_Due to severe cutbacks in the State budget and in particular to the Education Ministry’s own budget, the proposal has been frozen. The Minister of Education, however, requested all government ministries to enforce their specific areas of responsibility more vigorously. As a result, a few modest steps were taken. The Ministry of the Interior refused entry into Israel of the founder and head of the Emin, who is a British citizen. It is also examining very much more carefully all requests of suspected cults or new groups to be granted status as incorporated, nonprofit organizations. The Ministry of Health has withdrawn a letter of support it had given several years previously to Transcendental Meditation, and recently sought a permanent injunction against a psychotherapy group in which unlicensed doctors or psychologists were conducting extensive week-end courses for adults and children.
This latter group was forced to stop its seminars for children, but the judge hearing the case refused to grant a permanent injunction against the continued existence of courses for adults, arguing that their participation in the courses was voluntary and that the State had no duty to protect them from risks voluntarily undertaken. The judge viewed their position as no different from those who choose to smoke cigarettes, which are known to cause harm to the smoker. Others, however, hold the opinion that the State’s proper course should have been a criminal prosecution for the unlawful practice of medicine or psychology. The police have since opened a criminal investigation, and the matter is under review by the State Attorney.
This case highlights the Report’s call for coordinated action among police and the different government ministries and agencies involved, as well as the reluctance by courts to accept the argument that adults who participate in such courses often do so without giving their fully informed consent. Furthermore, the court recommended specific legislation authorizing the Ministry of Health and/or the Attorney General to seek preventive injunctive relief (avoiding the need for criminal prosecution) whenever there is an actual or likely violation of the law affecting the general public or a section thereof. The Ministry of Health is also studying possible licensing of groups practicing psychotherapy, but is having difficulty in defining the practice of psychotherapy.
In conclusion, since the publication of the Report, the majority of the groups studied in the Report have continued to be active in Israel, although they have chosen to maintain a low profile. Several new groups have also appeared. Despite the modest steps taken by government Ministries, the cult phenomenon in Israel continues unabated and is unlikely to receive serious attention until a permanent cult monitoring body as recommended in the Report is set up. Given the lack of public funds, such an act seems unlikely in the near future.
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The CSJ wishes to express its appreciation to Mr. Chaim Crown, Advocate and Solicitor, Member of Interministerial Committee Set Up To Examine Cults (“New Groups”) in Israel. Mr. Crown made this report available to us and provided the postscript. The report printed here has been edited slightly from the original English translation, mostly for punctuation and style.