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Sunday, November 21, 2010

State Department report on Israel: The conclusions were written before the report

On Friday, I reported that Hillary Clinton's State Department has issued a report castigating religious freedom in Israel. But it seems that the State Department first decided what it wanted to conclude and then adjusted the facts to fit the conclusion.
But a number of question marks that arise from the report’s stances on controversial and unsettled matters in Israeli society suggest that disproportionate weight was given to the input of the various NGOs and media reports cited, without presenting the full complexity of the rather complex topics.

One of the many issues touched on in the report is that of Israelis who are not Jews according to Halacha. “Approximately 360,000 citizens who immigrated to the country from the former Soviet Union under the Law of Return but are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate cannot be buried in Jewish cemeteries, divorce or marry within the country,” the report says. But this misses the mark, since such people can divorce in an Israeli civil court so long they are not considered Jewish.

Regarding the Kotel, the report states that “Ultra-Orthodox ‘modesty patrols’ attempted to enforce gender separation and a path designated for ‘men only’ was installed opposite the Western Wall.” Such a path does indeed exist, at the behest of ultra-Orthodox men who wish to reach the inner plaza for prayer with less exposure to the tourists, including women, who abound in the outer plaza. Needless to say, the necessity of such a path is only a result of a mixed plaza.

The further statement that “Mixed-gender ceremonies have been banned in the Western Wall plaza” is inaccurate; among the few nonreligious ceremonies to take place in that plaza are the swearing-in of IDF paratroopers and that on IDF Memorial Day, and neither has gender-separated seating.

The report also presented the state-funded haredi schools under the section dealing with proselytizing.

“Some ultra-Orthodox groups that proselytize secular Jews, encouraging them to adopt ultra-Orthodox practices and beliefs, enjoyed government funding. The Ministry of Education funded a special network of schools aimed at promoting Orthodox Judaism to non-Orthodox Jewish children, and funded other organizations that hold similarly motivated activities,” it states.

This presumably refers first and foremost to Shas’s Ma’ayan Chinuch Torani network, and perhaps to the Ashkenazi-run Independent Education Center. A spokesman for the Ministry of Education strongly rejected the presumed proselytizing nature of those haredi educational networks, if indeed the intention of the report was to refer to those.

Regarding the civil rights of Israelis who are not Jewish by Halacha but entitled to citizenship due to the Law of Return, the report correctly states that under the law “the government grants immigration and residence rights to individuals who meet established criteria defining Jewish identity and also to certain family members. Eligible family members include a child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew.”

However, the report goes on to fuse together “the right to full citizenship” for such people and the “government financial support for immigrants,” which is supposedly denied of those whose Judaism is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, with the matters pertaining to “Jewish status for purposes of personal... issues.

“The government uses a separate, more rigorous standard based on Orthodox Jewish criteria to determine the right to full citizenship, entitlement to government financial support for immigrants, the legitimacy of conversions to Judaism performed within the country, and Jewish status for purposes of personal and some civil status issues,” the report states.
There's more - read the whole thing.

The fact is that for most secular Israelis, 'the shul I don't go to' is Orthodox. There is very little Conservative and Reform here because most people aren't interested in them. Yes, there are problems with non-Jewish olim (immigrants) from the former Soviet Union, but non-Jews are able to marry here without the interference of the rabbinical courts. For that matter, so are Jews, although they must nominally marry overseas.

All in all, interfering with the nuances of one religion or another seems completely out of place for a United States government agency, all the more so to go around comparing Israel unfavorably to Iran and Saudi Arabia. It's clear to me that the same crowd of non-affiliated and non-halachically Jewish people that started J Street is exercising its influence in the State Department. That connection needs to be exposed.

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At 8:32 AM, Blogger NormanF said...


The same people who complain Israel is a theocracy say nothing about the Saudi and Iranian theocracies.

Just don't accuse them of having a double standard.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Thermblog said...

What's needed is to compare the report with previous ones. Is there a major difference in the way this issue is treated? If so, has Israel made major policy changes; unlikely.

That will point to a change in State policy regarding Judaism as practiced in the Jewish homeland.


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