Israel’s religious problem
My continuing eruption of opinion on Israel. I apologize if this one isn’t that well written, I’m spewing thoughts that have stayed unwritten by me, and I’m not necessarily ensuring they coherently fit together. I’m sure there’s more where this came from.
For me, the greatest issue in Israel, and the greatest block between me and the support I had for the country years ago, is the Arab issue. Just as I find American Slavery or Jim Crow or South African Apartheid despicable, I feel the same way about the oppression of the Arab population of Israel and Israel’s occupied territories.
However, there is another issue that plagues Israel, an issue I saw frequently during my time there, and an issue that also needs to be fixed: the religious problem. Israel’s Jewish population is, at its most simplistic state, composed of two groups: the ultra-Orthodox and the Secular. Of course, variations of the gray between these two poles exist, and I wouldn’t be foolish enough to suggest otherwise. But the two “loudest voices” in the religious conversation belong to those groups.
Actually that too is misleading: there is generally only one voice when it comes to religion in Israel. The non-Orthodox are disenfranchised, mistreated, and legally discriminated against. That includes not only the large Secular population but also the (extremely small, admittedly) Masorti (similar to America’s Conservative Judaism, a ‘middle ground’ if you will) and only semi-observant Jews.
This affects marriage, conversion, dress, and even where women are allowed to sit on public buses. Basically in any scenario in which religious Judaism has a pre-existing ruling, ultra-Orthodoxy has been given almost-free-reign to apply such religious law, regardless of even if it contradicts Israel’s Basic Laws. (The Basic Laws being the “not-almost-Bill-of-Rights” that I referred to yesterday.)
Meanwhile, the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews do not serve mandatory army service, instead opting to “serve time” studying or, in the case of women, performing national service (which though often quite difficult and important, Americorps-style work, is generally not so). The ultra-Orthodox pay significantly less in taxes and draw significantly more in welfare, due to higher birthrates and lower incomes (also, fewer workers as women cannot work in most ultra-Orthodox societies). The ultra-Orthodox receive tax exemptions and subsidies for their children, their housing, and even simply for Torah study instead of working.
And the secular population foots the bill.
Meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox political parties are far right-wing, their goals to continue this preferential treatment and cleanse the population of sin, be it the sin of fellow Jews, people they don’t consider Jews (such as those who underwent Reform conversion), or especially Arabs.
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that in America, post 9/11, we have not Islam to fear, but fundamentalist extremist Muslims. In Israel, the same is true, but extremist Jews pose a huge threat as well – a threat to the wellbeing of the country, its future, and its hope to ever undergo serious change.
Yesh Atid, the newcomer on the political scene, is focusing on this issue and for that reason I believe they will be a bright star in what seems to me an increasingly darkening country. If they can make progress on the religious problem, maybe the road will be paved for further progress.
But in the meanwhile, this is just one of many issues in Israeli society that are plainly felt over there and completely ignored or unknown by American Israel Advocacy groups who would believe that the right-wing in Israel, regardless of what that means for Israel itself, is always right. These AIPACs and ADLs spend their time drumming up money and support for groups in Israel that are happy to treat women as servants, objects, or even worse, things to be ignored.