Sunday, October 10, 2010

First of some assorted footnotes to the preceding

In announcing his support for a new loyalty oath, one his cabinet is expected to endorse, Netanyahu said that there is
a very great struggle today to nullify and blur the character of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and to say that it doesn't belong to the Jewish people on a national basis.... I think that the struggle on this issue, both on an international and a domestic level, is a necessary struggle.
Concern was expressed about a supposed "campaign" to "delegitimize" Israel, all of which seems to me as translating to "criticism of Israel is antisemetic."

However, there is among some in Israel a feeling that there is an inherent tension, even a conflict, in being both a "Jewish" and a "democratic" state. That feeling exists not only among non-Jewish Israelis but is found even among the Jewish majority, some of who resent the disproportionate role the extreme right religious authorities play in public affairs.

As one example, last month it was declared that
Israeli government offices that provide a wide array of public services are pulling the plug on online payments on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays, creating a potential new source of friction between the religious and secular in the Jewish state.

Ultra-Orthodox Cabinet ministers are leading the charge to enforce the religious prohibition on spending money on Jewish holy days.

But for non-religious residents, tourists and foreign workers, the planned ban joins two leading ills of Israeli life — red tape and religious restrictions — in a marriage of inconvenience.
The ministries of interior, health, and religious affairs - all controlled by ultra-Orthodox parties - are the ones imposing the payment blackout. Meanwhile, Israel's social security agency has gone the opposite direction and has begun dealing with payments around the clock. Significantly, the agency is headed by a professional appointee, not a political one.
The inconvenience [of the new restrictions] is liable to fuel already considerable secular resentment of the ultra-Orthodox, who make up less than 10 percent of the population but wield disproportionate influence in Israel's parliamentary democracy.

Few ultra-Orthodox men serve in the military, which is largely compulsory for Jewish citizens. Many ultra-Orthodox families rely on state handouts because the men want to pursue religious studies rather than work.

The ultra-Orthodox also have a monopoly on civil matters like marriage and divorce, creating further tensions.
It's important to point out that the control of the ultra-Orthodox over those latter matters - marriage and divorce - is a matter of law, not a matter of what deals are struck by what ruling coalition in the Knesset. That control can lead to some very difficult circumstances for women seeking a divorce because the courts - acting on Biblical principles - favor the husband by their very nature. In fact, a woman cannot get a divorce unless her husband "willingly" gives her one.

So can your country be simultaneously Jewish, with some matters locked into Biblical law administered by right wing rabbis, and democratic, with the "rule of law" and "rule of the majority?" As soon as you say some laws are ordained by God and so leave no room for open democratic debate, it clearly becomes questionable.

Footnote to the Footnote: As a sidebar, Turkey struggles with the same issue from a different perspective, trying to be both Islamic and democratic. It experiences some of the same sorts of tensions and faces the same question of how religious law can ever be a part of democracy.

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