The Fight for a Democratic State Not a Tyrannical Theocracy In Israel – Un-Covering up!

A screenshot from a video capturing waitresses flashing their bras. Washington Post

Jerusalem waitresses flash their bras at ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting desecration of the Sabbath

JERUSALEM – Bastet, a vegan and LGBT-friendly cafe whose blue tables spill across a central Jerusalem sidewalk, is a secular oasis for residents seeking Saturday refreshment in a city that largely comes to a standstill for the Jewish Sabbath.

But each week, a procession of ultra-Orthodox men, some in their finest fur hats and gold robes, invariably marches past in a show of displeasure at the cafe’s desecration of the day of rest. “Shabbos!” they chant, using the Yiddish word for the Sabbath.

On a recent Saturday, the wait staff struck back, lifting their shirts to reveal their bras in an attempt to push back the religiously conservative demonstrators.

The confrontation reflected a central tension in modern Israel over the very nature of the state, founded by secular Zionists but with an ultrareligious population that is growing in size and influence.

That tension came to the forefront late last month, thwarting longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government and sending a stunned nation to the polls for the second time this year. Netanyahu needed two competing factions, secular and religious, to form a governing majority in parliament, and they were deadlocked over legislation that proposes drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military as other Israeli Jews are.

The ultrareligious parties oppose conscription as an attempt to assimilate their cloistered communities by thrusting their young men into contact with secular life and values.

But Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s ultranationalist former defence minister, has made resistance to ultra-Orthodox influence an essential part of his appeal to his political base of secular Russian-speaking immigrants. Those close to him say the conscription issue is part of his wider concern about a minority community that receives state welfare payments and tax breaks while contributing less than other Israeli taxpayers.

It is a victory

Mira Ibrahim, one of the staff who disrobed

The ultra-Orthodox, a catchall for a religious community that includes a wide range of sects, choose largely to segregate themselves from the wider Israeli society to lead a life in which religious observance is paramount. Outside influences, such as films, the Internet and mixing with secular Israelis is discouraged, if not forbidden.

But in Israel’s fragmented parliamentary democracy, the political parties representing the ultra-Orthodox have become kingmakers in recent years, elevating their agenda and carving a fault line in Israeli society that is expected to grow.

For Israelis like Klil Lifshitz, the 28-year-old lesbian who opened Bastet 2 1/2 years ago with a “super feminist” wait staff rather than decamp to liberal Tel Aviv as most of her friends had, the shrinking space for secularism is a concern.

“They have more and more power,” she said of the ultra-Orthodox. “As long as they keep having the power they do in forming coalitions and governments, they are basically going to get what they want.”

It was during an usually large demonstration last month, called by ultra-Orthodox Jews to protest what they termed Israel’s desecration of the Sabbath as the country hosted the Eurovision song contest, that the wait staff decided to make their own stand. They said the purpose was to protect their tables and make an ideological point.

Since then the ultra-Orthodox have paused their weekly walk past.

“It is a victory,” said Mira Ibrahim, one of the staff who decided to disrobe, though she said the sense of triumph was tinged by a heavy-handed police response to the demonstrators that made the staff uncomfortable.

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“Religion ought to be a beautiful thing, not a political thing” – Israel and the Religious Hurting Judaism

[OPINION] – By David Suissa/JNS.org – reprinted in part without explicit permission

Israel’s Religious Parties Hurt Judaism

On the surface, the fact that Israel is headed back to an election only weeks after the last one looks like a system failure. It’s never happened before in Israel. The Israeli government will now have spent the bulk of a year in election mode rather than governing mode. There’s something wrong with this picture.

And yet, if we look at the reason for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to cobble together a coalition — one party’s refusal to kowtow to religious parties — this “do-over” election presents a unique opportunity for a political upgrade.

Israel’s religious parties crave political power because it enables them to fulfill their religious agenda, from refusing to enlist in the IDF to forcing Torah laws on the public. Over the years, because Netanyahu has desperately needed their seats to form a majority coalition, he has tolerated their demands.

He probably figured the same thing would happen this time around — but one man stopped him. Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beiteinu party, decided he had had enough and refused to compromise on a bill to draft haredi(ultra-Orthodox) Jews into the IDF.

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Normally, Netanyahu is able to pull things together at the last minute, because Knesset members are loath to jeopardize their positions by going to new elections. In this case, it didn’t work. The religious parties threw a few bones of compromise, but Lieberman held firm, sticking to the original draft bill.

This dispute is rooted in the founding of the Jewish state, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made the fateful decision to exempt ultra-Orthodox men (only a few hundred at the time) from enlisting in the IDF. A well-known modern Orthodox rabbi in Israel once told me that this decision did more to turn off secular Jews to religion than anything else.

This makes sense. If you’re an Israeli parent whose children are risking their lives to defend the state, why should ultra-Orthodox citizens be exempt? And if you see ultra-Orthodox leaders fighting to keep their community out of the army, how would that make you feel about religion in general?

There are countless other ways that political power in the hands of ultra-Orthodox parties has become corrosive.

 

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Did Netanyahu Agree to Gender Segregation in Public – Selling his Soul to the Ultra-Orthodox Minority

PM agreed to ultra-Orthodox demand for gender-segregation in public — report

Netanyahu reportedly agreed to an ultra-Orthodox demand for gender segregation in public places during the coalition negotiations last month, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

According to the report, Netanyahu sought to soften the demand in his talks with his would-be coalition members, but ultimately agreed to the condition laid out by Shas, United Torah Judaism, and the Union of Right Wing parties.

The Likud denies the report, telling Kan that no such agreement was made.

From the Times of Israel

Anger Over Ultra-Orthodox Freeloading and Power of Minority “Kingmakers” Could Destroy Israel

It’s Thursday night at the Mahane Yehuda market in west Jerusalem, where the music is thumping and the drinks are flowing. When a bottle breaks, the crowds erupt with a chorus of “mazel tov”, or congratulations.

But as some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in traditional black suits, side locks, and thick skullcaps pass by, Ad Shamsi’s face sours. “What do they have to do here?” asks the 56-year-old Jewish Israeli, who is kicking off the weekend at an outside bar.

This is a glimpse of the intra-religious tension that in part led Israel’s parliament last week to dissolve itself and hold a fresh election – just seven weeks after the last one – following a deadlock between two rightwing factions at odds over a proposal to draft the ultra-Orthodox into Israel’s military.

Since Israel’s founding, the ultra-Orthodox – also called the Haredim – have been exempted from military service, which is mandatory for all Jewish Israeli school leavers. The various ultra-Orthodox sects see it as a religious commandment to only study Jewish texts and separate themselves from modern society. They consequently receive government subsidies to study rather than work, along with general social services and benefits relating to unemployment, poverty and their large numbers of children.

Today the ultra-Orthodox, an umbrella term for different sects and communities, are 10% of Israel’s population of more than 8.5 million – and are growing fast.

They have strategically cultivated a role as kingmakers in Israeli politics, making or breaking coalitions based on which politicians best support their interests.

The military symbolises the antithesis of traditional ultra-Orthodox principles. It represents time away from studying, a mixing of genders against religious prohibitions and a vast melting pot in which young people are taught to be a certain kind of Israeli. For average Jewish Israelis, to be a good citizen is to serve in the military. (Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of the population, are exempt from service because of the ongoing conflict.)

Shamsi is an avid supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and his rightwing, national religious policies. He wears a kippa, or Jewish head covering, thinks shops should close on the Sabbath in keeping with strict Jewish law, and supports Israel’s presence in the occupied Palestinian Territories. He lives in Ramot, an increasingly ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem considered an illegal settlement under international law.

He has no patience with the ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not serve in the military yet receive subsidies from the government, all while not actually studying — in his mind epitomised by the young Haredi men coming to check out the secular bar scene on a Thursday night. “Why do I need to do three years [in the military] and him not?” Shamsi asks. “Why do I need to pay for everything and not them?”

A few minutes’ walk from the bars of Mahane Yehuda is Mea She’arim, historically the most intense ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem. Here, men dress in various styles of black hats and suits, depending on their sect, and walk fast, so as not to appear to be wasting time away from studying. Plastered on walls along narrow streets are posters listing deaths and other notices – a key source of information for communities that shun the internet.

A sign near a bustling supermarket informs passers-by: “It is forbidden to participate in elections.”

Some ultra-Orthodox sects do not recognise the state of Israel, saying the Bible prescribes that it can only come into existence with the coming of the Messiah. For others, there is a more pointed boycott of elections now in protest over what they see as the Haredi parties’ failure to be hardline enough on the issue of conscription.

 

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The Ultra-Orthodox Free-Loaders in Israel Posing Existential Threat to Israel and to Jews

Legitimizing Child Sexual Abuse, Malka Leifer, and a Meeting between Roger Cook and Yaakov Litzman

Alleged victim blasts WA Deputy Premier for meeting Israeli politician linked to Melbourne child sex accused

Alleged victims of accused child sex abuser Malka Leifer have described a meeting between WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook and an Israeli politician under investigation for allegedly hindering her extradition to Australia as deeply hurtful and a “slap in the face”.

Mr Cook met Israeli Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman while leading a delegation from WA in discussions on digital medicine, medical cannabis and vaccination policy, according to an Israeli government media statement.

Dassi Erlich, an alleged victim of a child sex accused awaiting extradition from Israel, has spoken out about WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook's meeting with an Israeli politician linked to the extradition proceedings.
Dassi Erlich, an alleged victim of a child sex accused awaiting extradition from Israel, has spoken out about WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook’s meeting with an Israeli politician linked to the extradition proceedings.CREDIT:JOE ARMAO

Rabbi Litzman has been accused of pressuring health officials and psychiatrists into declaring Ms Leifer unfit for extradition from Israel, allegations which are under investigation by the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office.

He told Israeli media in February his intervention in the case was “all for the good of the public, everything was legal”.

Ms Leifer is the former principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne charged with 74 counts of child sexual abuse allegedly committed against three sisters between 2001-2008.

An alleged victim of Ms Leifer, Dassi Erlich, said she was “more than infuriated” when she read Israeli news reports of Mr Cook’s meeting with Rabbi Litzman.

“I woke up to news of that meeting early this morning [Monday], and it kind of felt a bit like a slap in the face,” Ms Erlich said.

“We have Australia consistently telling us, ‘what can we do to help, we want justice in this case,’ and then we see all these reports coming from Israel saying that Litzman is alleged to have helped not just Malka Leifer, but a lot of other paedophiles escape justice.

“And here is an Australian delegation legitimising who he is and his position, given what they know about him.

“It absolutely hurt a lot.”

Ms Erlich, who first reported allegations against against Ms Leifer to police in 2011, said the allegations against Rabbi Litzman were all over the news in Israel and she couldn’t understand how an Australian politician could not have known about them.

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Israel’s Draft Dodging Haredi, the Legal Impetus, the Moral Imperative and Israel’s Financial Future

The IDF and its need for troops aren’t the real issue in the Haredi draft battle

Israel may be heading to snap elections over the enlistment of a few hundred more ultra-Orthodox recruits, which would do little to address the army’s manpower woes

 

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem against the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox young man for draft-dodging on March 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem against the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox young man for draft-dodging on March 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

That Israel may be heading toward a second general election within months — if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form a majority coalition — actually has relatively little to do with the military or its very real manpower concerns, even though this failure stems from irreconcilable differences between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and the ultra-Orthodox factions over the conscription of yeshiva students.

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman is demanding an increase in the level of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces, with the threat of economic sanctions on ultra-Orthodox institutions if they do not meet these goals. The Haredi parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, are demanding precisely the opposite: more exemptions for their communities’ yeshiva students. And Netanyahu needs both Liberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties for a majority coalition.

The IDF is indeed grappling with the potential threat of significant troop shortages following a 2015 amendment to the country’s draft law that cut the mandatory service for men from three years to two years and eight months, and plans to further reduce males’ service to 30 months beginning in 2020.

Yet while ostensibly stemming from the manpower needs of the military, the direct impetus for this partisan fight between Yisrael Beytenu and the Haredi parties comes not from IDF requests, but from legal necessity.

n 2012, the High Court of Justice struck down the 2002 “Tal Law,” which had dictated ultra-Orthodox enlistment levels but was found to do so unfairly and thus illegally. A more demanding replacement law was proposed in 2013 by the Yesh Atid party, but it was soon amended and moderated once the Haredi parties were brought back into the government. In 2017, the High Court struck down that law as well, declaring it similarly unjust.

Even during the years when this weakened 2013 replacement law was in effect, the IDF never reached the prescribed Haredi enlistment numbers, sometimes falling short by hundreds of recruits.

While Netanyahu now needs to find another formulation, one that simultaneously satisfies the demands of Liberman, the ultra-Orthodox parties, and the High Court of Justice, ensuring the IDF has its manpower requirements met is not one of these demands. And nor would even the most dramatic of proposals that are seriously being considered come close to meeting the IDF’s needs.

Liberman’s plan, while seen as entirely too extreme by the Haredi factions, would see only a comparatively modest increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. The proposal put forward by Liberman’s Defense Ministry last year would initially require 3,348 ultra-Orthodox men to enlist in the IDF each year and another 648 take part in some kind of national service, a small increase on the current quotas. These numbers would increase, first by eight percent each year for three years, then 6.5 percent for another three years and finally by five percent for four more years, reaching 5,737 ultra-Orthodox military recruits and 1,107 national servicemen after a decade.

If the draft falls short of 95% of these targets, sanctions in the form of cuts to state funds allocated to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas would be put in place. The fines would increase each year the targets are missed.

On Monday, Liberman confirmed that this was a symbolic battle over the nature of the country, not one about the IDF’s readiness for war.

“It’s not just the draft law. The draft law became a symbol. And we certainly won’t give up on our symbols… but look at what is happening here,” he said, referring to demands by the Haredi parties in recent months to halt all government work on Saturday.

“I want to emphasize another time: We are in favor of a Jewish state, we are against a halachic state,” Liberman added, using the Hebrew term for Jewish law.

Since the 2015 cutback, the military has adopted a host of new measures and programs to make up for its manpower losses, and the prospect of the additional reduction in 2020 is still being protested by the IDF in the halls of the Kirya — the Defense Ministry and military headquarters — and the Knesset.

The enlistment of these few hundred more Haredi recruits each year is not likely to have a significant effect on the military’s manpower shortages, nor is it trumpeted by IDF officials as a potential game-changer on this front, especially as ultra-Orthodox servicemen require on average more investment per soldier by the IDF due to their community’s relatively low socioeconomic position.

There are, of course, other reasons for encouraging greater Haredi enlistment in the military beyond simple manpower numbers.

Israel remains one of the few countries around the world with near universal conscription, and the IDF is described as a “people’s army,” one that is supposed to reflect the diverse nature of Israeli society.

This is a “supreme value that will continue to serve as the basis for the IDF’s activities and to direct it,” the Defense Ministry wrote in its recommendations last year.

The military can also serve as an important economic and social springboard, offering people skills, qualifications and experiences that would be otherwise difficult or expensive to obtain — especially for a comparatively poor and economically underperforming community like Israel’s ultra-Orthodox.

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