The fading of Israeli democracy/The State vs. The Spiritual Army

In Religion on June 22, 2010 at 8:14 AM

It is a dark day for Israeli democracy when a decree by the highest legal court in the land is overturned by the State. When twenty-two ultra-orthodox women convicted of racist conduct do not have to serve jail time because they refuse to turn up for their prison sentences. When a State fearful of a political backlash capitulates to the organized de-legitimization of its rule of law.

Last week, when members of the ultra orthodox Jewish settlement of Emmanual were convicted by the High Court of Israel of illegally segregating a girls’ school between students of Ashkenazi (Jews of European origin) and Sephardi (Jews of Middle East origin) descent, one-hundred thousand of their compatriots marched through the streets of Jerusalem demanding their case be over-turned. Most of whom deem Israel’s secular legal system unholy, unjust and un-Jewish, yet benefit from the same system that protects and provides for it.

A community that due to its perceived political power is allowed to be a law onto themselves – with their own schools, rabbi-led autocratic governance and religious henchmen-style rulings. A community that instead of working and contributing to the Israeli economy, is given a government stipend to spend their days in yeshiva (religious) study. A community that has been given complete control of all matters of religion in the entire country including death, marriage and divorce, and yet does not serve in its armed forces unlike the compulsory conscription for the rest of the country, but expects the army to defend it. Emmanual itself is a township whose very existence is illegal according to international law for standing on occupied Palestinian land captured in the 1967 six-day war. How on earth can we expect this community to obey the laws of the State, when they operate completely beyond them?

When there is no separation between State and religion, it is religion that dictates decree. Religion that is beyond the pale of the law. Religion that mandates that the ‘hand of God’ is a greater than that of man, therefore man’s law has no effect or consequence. How can a rational human being argue with the devout, who have no doubt of their pious? More importantly, how can man’s law be imposed when politicians afraid, not of God’s law, but of God’s votes are unwilling to take the steps necessary to demote the ultra-religious to where they belong – an important community within a secular state who must abide by the laws of that State?

By giving the Jewish ultra-orthodox community of Israel special kid-glove treatment, we are undermining the very foundation on which the State was established – democratic equality for all its citizens in accordance to the laws which govern it. A system that is fading daily, overrun by faulty decision-making and poor governance, not to mention the constant, and enduring issue of its treatment of the Palestinian population.

This community needs to be reigned in before it is their law and not ours that governs the State. Turning the last semblance of Israeli democracy into a theocracy and leading to the further de-legitimization and isolation of Israel as a State on the world stage. And God only knows, we need all the help in that department that we can get.


The State vs. The Spiritual Army

When Israel was established on the backs of a mostly secular fighting force in 1948, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding Prime Minister agreed that the small Ultra Orthodox Jewish community, with its 400-army aged men, should be exempt from armed combat. That their role, as a spiritual beacon for the fledgling state was as important as its strengthening army.

And for the sixty years since, the Ultra Orthodox community benefited from government stipends that allowed their spiritual yeshiva study for the good of the state, never required to serve in the army unlike the compulsory service required of every other Jewish citizen of Israel. And with time, their numbers grew as did the population, increasing from a couple thousand members from a Israel’s population of 650,000 in 1948, to today’s number of 650,000 ultra-orthodox out of Israel’s population of 7.4-million, now accounting for around 11-percent of the population.

And whilst a number of sects encouraged army service, most refused due to the difficulties in serving in a secular army, where both men and women serve in mixed army bases. Many believing that fighting a war for Israel’s spiritual heart is of equal importance to its military achievements.

For sixty-years the secular army of Israel protected the spiritual army of Israel, free to study in yeshiva full-time whilst establishing large families of the devout to carry on the tradition. The birthrate of the community higher than the rest of the country with approximately an 7.6-children per woman average, though most similar to high Arab-Muslim birthrates – with both minorities seeming to try to outdo each other with how many babies their women can produce and therefore win the demographics battle for the country’s soul. Low education rates amongst women being a contributing factor.

During this time the Ultra Orthodox’s political power grew. From a community uninterested in the affairs of the State, political parties were established to represent their unique interests. Shas, United Torah Judaism and other parties with mixed supporter bases such as The Jewish Home now all vie for black-hat votes. With at least 20-seats out of the 120-Knesset (Parliament) elected with Haredi support. Political campaigns for which are carried out on billboards throughout orthodox neighborhoods, which for many is their only news source, unable to access the ‘immoral’ secular press. Most vote according their rabbis decrees – never asking question of their leaders or themselves.

These political parties now hold a controlling share of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). And it is by agreement with these parties that governments have been formed and lost. With their numbers growing, how will the Knesset look in ten, or twenty years? What percentage of a democratically elected Parliament will be chosen by those who only vote according to their Rabbi’s instructions? Those who cannot access basic facts about their country as their news source is completely edited? Those, who at no fault of their own, truly believe that whatever they are told by their spiritual elders is the truth?

Democracy can only operate when voters are able to access free information about political parties and their leaders, and therefore make informed choices with their votes.  A segment of the State that votes according to decree over decision-making, forms a grave danger to democratic process. A disaster for democracy will be the day when few men decide the fate for many, and it is religion over reality that will determine the policy of the State.

  1. For further reference, a Haaretz article speaking of the overturned court ruling regarding the orthodox mothers. http://bit.ly/cjFq1s

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