- David M. Weinberg - https://davidmweinberg.com -

An ‘enlightened’ secular democratic state of the Jews

Published in The Jerusalem Post [1], September 13, 2019; and in Israel Hayom [2], September 15, 2019.

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Freedom of and from religion is what we’ll get if a defiantly secular, left-of-center Israeli government is formed later this fall, comprising Blue & White, Israel Beytenu, Labor-Gesher, the Democratic Union and the United Arab List. Just imagine…

[4] Cartoon: Leo Atelman/Haaretz

Imagine that a defiantly secular, left-of-center government is formed later this fall, comprising Blue & White, Israel Beytenu, Labor-Gesher, the Democratic Union and the United Arab List – and that it sets out to “fully democratize” Israel.

December 2019: Justice Minister Avigdor Liberman introduces and passes in Knesset a new Basic Law: Freedom of and from Religion. The law states that “the institutions of state shall not provide or insinuate a preference for religion, or for one denomination within a religion, over other religions or denominations.”

Liberman proudly proclaims that “this important amendment will bring Israel into line with the enlightened democracies of the Western world.” Responding to expressions of concern by the religious public, religious members of the coalition like Chili Tropper of Blue & White and Yair (Yaya) Fink of the Democratic Union say that they have received assurances from the Prime Minister that he is “committed to preserving the Jewish character of the state.”

Minister of Environment Yoaz Hendel expresses confidence that Judaism will flourish by competing openly in the free marketplace of ideas without state support.

January 2020: Basing itself on the new Basic Law, the Supreme Court strikes down as unconstitutional “all government institutions whose purpose is the establishment, propagation or support of religion,” and instructs the government to enact legislation within one year to dismantle state institutions “that relate to faith.”

The chief justice of the Supreme Court also hints broadly that the court is unlikely to uphold the validity of religious parties in the next elections. “Israel,” she writes, “is firmly on the road towards fuller enlightenment and the civilized values of the democratic world.”

February: Interior Minister Yair Lapid introduces legislation instituting civil marriage, divorce and burial in Israel, canceling the exclusive mandate of the Chief Rabbinate in these areas. “This will bring Israel into line with the enlightened democracies of the Western world,” he says. Attorney General Dina Zilber clarifies that under the new constitutional situation, conversion to Judaism is no longer an area of government concern.

April: Transport Minister Stav Shaffir issues directives allowing El Al to fly on Shabbat, and public transportation to operate on Shabbat. Labor Minister Yael German introduces legislation ending Shabbat shopping restrictions. The Jerusalem District Court rules that all Shabbat street closings in the city are unconstitutional.

Trade Minister Nitzan Horowitz annuls kashrut regulations in manufacturing and import of foodstuffs. Deputy Defense Minister Ofer Shelah sets a rigid timetable for the draft of Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Welfare Minister Tamar Zandberg avers that she lights candles on Rosh Chodesh (the new moon) and “believes in strengthening the enlightened Jewish character of the state.”

May: Minister of Religion Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who brags in every speech that he is “Israel’s last religious affairs minister,” ends government stipends to yeshiva students and all subsidies for the construction and maintenance of shuls, mikvas and eruvs (synagogues, ritual baths and Sabbath perimeters). With nothing left to its purview, the Chief Rabbinate terminates itself, its courts and all Religious Councils, calling for civil disobedience in protest.

Kariv warns that “the Ultra-Orthodox clerics are threatening the fabric of our enlightened Western democracy.” He asserts that “what we are doing will produce a healthier Judaism for future generations.”

In response to expressions of concern from delegations of Orthodox and traditional Diaspora Jewry, Kariv affirms that “prayer remains a legally-protected, permissible activity.” He enshrines rights to prayer at the Western Wall for Orthodox denominations. But his Reform Movement petitions the Supreme Court against the “inequitable and discriminatory” mechitza (permanent prayer divider) at the site.

June: Education Minister Amir Peretz triumphantly informs the nation that he is terminating the “medieval” state-religious school system. “We will support only one democratically-enlightened educational track,” he chortles.

Peretz also outlaws Jewish “proselytizing” in the school system as missionary activity, like Christian proselytizing. Ba’al teshuva seminaries go underground. Even liberal “Jewish studies festivals” are branded as illegal outreach activity, drawing mild protest from the Reform and Conservative movements. UJA leaders fly-in to express disquiet. Tzvika Hauser and Elazar Stern threaten to leave the government (but don’t).

The Prime Minister counters by amorphously reaffirming “a commitment to the Jewish character of the state,” by muttering an obscure Biblical verse, and by briefly attending services at the Great Synagogue on Yom Ha’atzmaut – in a private capacity, of course.

September: Defense Minister Ehud Barak cancels a paratrooper swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall. He says that it violates the required separation between synagogue and state, and unnecessarily pokes a finger in the eye of the Palestinians (– who have been ceded full sovereignty on the Temple Mount).

He also announces the disbanding of hesder units in the military (which combine yeshiva study with army service). Barak also confirms that not all IDF kitchens will be kept kosher. But Attorney General Zilber stipulates that under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights “Israeli soldiers of Jewish religious faith” have “the constitutional right of a minority” to order special kosher meals.

November: With the “liberal-democratic character of the Jewish state” now firmly established, the Supreme Court rules that the Law of Return is racist, and no longer necessary.

December: Culture Minister Itzik Shmueli signs into law an amendment to “Hatikva” removing the reference to a “Jewish soul” and to “Zion.” “This will bring our national anthem into line with the non-theocratic, enlightened democracies of the Western world,” he says.

Just imagine. An “enlightened” secular democratic state of the Jews. Yay.