Saturday, November 19

Democratic Erosion in Israel

As the winter rains approach with the weatherman's forecast of snow on Mt Hermon, the winter cold has not cooled many right wing Knesset members who are doing their fair share to destroy Israel's already jaded democracy with a plethora of anti-democratic bills.

The Netanyahu right wing government coalition of many racist extremists are making their voices heard in their desire to change Israel's democratic face into a face more grotesque and intolerant towards those who are left wing in thought and deed as well as the non-Jewish minority who are citizens of Israel.

We are witnessing a steady downhill trend towards abysmal darkness as Israel's democracy is chipped away by the right wing.  The left wing that is weak and ineffective which will weaken further as they wallow in the murky darkness of the extreme right.

The various racist laws and restriction of personal freedom when it comes to matters of religion are becoming more common place. The Israel Rabbinate has the monopoly on marriage ceremonies. The Rabbinate is run by an ultra-Orthodox hegemony of rabbinical bigots who make a lot of money marrying couples. Civil marriage is not available in Israel for people who are not recognized as Jews according to their intolerant interpretation of Halacha (Religious Jewish Law).

Israel is contravening Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that "men and women of marriageable age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family."

Countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran do not have civil marriage either. This places Israel in league with these undemocratic regimes in Jewish religious marriages. The reason is the iron clad grip of the narrow ultra-Orthodox hegemony in the Rabbinate. Money also plays a great part. Imagine their loss in income from marriage services if Reform and Conservative Jews were allowed to marry in non-Orthodox marriage ceremonies as well as the availability of civil marriage services.

If one asks questions about the non-availability of civil marriage in Israel the answer is always the same: Israel is a Jewish country and there is only one Halacha - the Orthodox. Any movement away from that is a danger to the survival of the Jewish People in the Jewish State." The real reason is the desire of the Rabbinate to have the monopoly of a very lucrative marriage business.

Even in the Israeli Army, religious extremism is becoming more common place. Some extremist rabbis who are heads of the various hesder yeshivot (institutions of learning Judaism and doing compulsory military service) are telling their students that it is forbidden to listen to women singing. Presently we are surprised by a new and more intolerant interpretation of Halacha, which is becoming more common place. New rules of Halakhic modesty are rising from God knows where.

Now I am tempted to make some comparison with Halacha as interpreted by right wing Zionist rabbis and the apartheid policy of White South Africa.

In Israel, one's birth certificate states one's religion. If a child is born in a union between a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother the child is stuck with the mark of Cain which is "without religious affiliation." In order to give the child a name, the father must undergo a DNA test to prove that he is the father of the child. This is done at the father's expense. Surely this is macabre! In apartheid South Africa this is reminiscent of the Immorality Act which forbade marriage between whites and blacks. DNA testing was practiced there to prove paternity and the punishment was a prison sentence.

A person officially labeled "without religious affiliation." cannot marry a Jew in Israel where he/she was born. They are not treated as equal citizens.

The Knesset passed a law in 2010 known as the Spousal Covenant for Persons Lacking Religious Affiliation as a solution. It solved nothing! This is a disgrace to any country claiming to be democratic. This law allows couples with no religious affiliation to marry but they must avoid marrying Jews. Here we can see latent racism in order to preserve "Jewish purity" thus avoiding assimilation. This attitude contributes to the mantra of Israel moving forward (or backward) depending on whether one is religious or not to an apartheid-style society.

Many new bills are being discussed in the Knesset that is a threat to human rights. Details of these bills can be found in the above link. It makes for very worrisome reading:


With the conclusion of the summer 2011 Knesset session, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) believes it must warn against disturbing trends prevalent in the current Knesset and the promotion of legislation with severe repercussions for human rights. During this just-completed Knesset session, we have witnessed a slew of bills which, if passed, would infringe on the entire range of human rights and, with them, the very foundations of Israeli democracy.

These bills will harm (amongst other basic rights) freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of dissent of Israeli citizens and residents, especially those whose opinions are currently viewed unfavorably by the political majority. Additionally, the current Knesset session saw numerous attempts to harm civil society organizations, primarily human rights groups, which are an integral layer in the social fabric of any democracy. See, for example: the Anti-Boycott Law, the proposed committees of inquiry to investigate certain NGOs, a variety of bills limiting donations to and the activity of these organizations, new anti-libel legislation, and so on.” 

Thank goodness we still have ACRI (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel).  The government has been going for NGO’s and trying to limit their activities. We have every right to feel concerned as to the anti-democratic trends that are in the fabric of Israel’s human rights record. Somehow whether one likes to admit it or not, the similarity to South African apartheid cannot be whitewashed anymore.

The greatest human rights violations are found in the occupied territories where the illegal settlers cause great damage to Palestinian property and are not even punished. The destruction of Palestinian olive trees and agricultural lands are notorious examples of damage of Palestinian property. While there is no solution to the conflict and the occupation continues, the loutish behaviour of the settlers in the occupied West Bank will be a great threat to democracy.
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