Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Religious Intolerance and Rejection of the Peace Process Alienating Majority of American Jews

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Religious Intolerance and Rejection of the Peace Process Alienating Majority of American Jews

Article excerpt

Israeli Religious Intolerance and Rejection of the Peace Process Alienating Majority of American Jews

As a result of growing religious intolerance in Israel and of the Israeli government's move away from the commitments made in the Oslo peace accords, American Jews have become increasingly alienated.

The fact that there is no Western-style religious freedom in Israel and that Reform and Conservative Jews have few legal rights in the "Jewish" state has been a matter of contention for some time.

In Israel, the religious attacks on non-Orthodox Jews have grown more rabid in recent days. United Torah Judaism Knesset member Moshe Gafini attacked both the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism. "Letting a Reform rabbi sit on the Tel Aviv religious council is the equivalent of letting a terrorist into the General Staff headquarters," he declared. "The reform are terrorists, not rabbis."

Recently, on the occasion of the Jewish festival of Tisha b'Av, a group of Orthodox Jews attacked men and women visitors from an American Conservative Jewish delegation at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Israeli police, instead of taking action against those interfering with the prayers of the visitors, evicted the Americans.

Writing in the U.S. Jewish journal Sh'ma, Rabbi Scott White, who teaches at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Overland Park, Kansas, declared that, "Placating the fundamentalists erodes the bond between Israel and the Diaspora and deepens the polarization between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox in Israel."

Within Israel itself there is growing criticism of the lack of religious freedom and, in particular, the lack of civil marriage. With no civil marriage, the right to marry Jews in Israel remains an official monopoly of the Orthodox rabbinical courts. But the rabbis refuse to register marriages if they suspect that one of the parties is not fully Jewish, according to halakha, or Jewish religious law. This problem has become more compelling with the arrival of some 500,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Most of these new Israeli citizens are secular. An estimated 150,000 are not considered Jewish by halakah and cannot be married at all.


Ze'ev Chafets, associate editor of The Jerusalem Report, has written of his personal difficulties in this regard: "On the 17th of September...I entered the state of matrimony...My American bride, Lisa, is beautiful, smart and fearless (as evidenced by her willingness to marry me). She is also a shiksa, which is why the ceremony was held in Massachusetts and conducted by a Federal judge...Jews who would rather cut off their tongue than say `nigger' or `spic' and consider `Kike' and `Hymie' fighting words, talk about `goyim' and `shiksas' with blithe indifference. They assume that we can't be guilty of prejudice because we are victims...But terms like `shiksa' longer sound like charming Yiddishisms to me; they seem like slurs...I could not marry Lisa here, at home, in my home country...I have, for the first time, become acutely aware of how infuriating and is to be forced to leave my country like some sort of criminal in order to get married."

Chafets notes that, "Israel bills itself as `the only democracy in the Middle East,' but in matters of personal status it is a theocracy, pure and simple. It is easy to imagine the contempt we would feel for a country that prohibited Jews from marrying gentiles in the name of ethnic or religious purity...It is infuriating to be subjected to such discrimination, and humiliating to have to explain to my wife why she is unfit to marry a Jew in a Jewish country...All I can do is call it what it is: a disgrace."

Matters have escalated in recent months. Last April, Israel's three Orthodox political parties, which are members of the coalition of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, won preliminary approval in the Knesset for a bill that would codify Ortho-dox control of the conversion process. …

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