In its annual International Religious Freedoms Report
on Israel and the “Occupied Territories”, The U.S. State Department accused Israel of “governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism”.
A disproportionate amount of the report is dedicated to depicting Torah traditions and Orthodox Judaism as oppressive, and to reporting on Israel’s “growing” but “harassed” community of apostate Jews and Christian missionaries.
The report cited that, “government allocations of state resources favored Orthodox (including Modern and National Religious streams of Orthodoxy) and ultra-Orthodox (sometimes referred to as "Haredi") Jewish religious groups and institutions, discriminating against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.”
The State Department was hypercritical of everything from Shabbat observance to Jewish marriage counseling, divorce law, and burial rights in Israel. Jewish Israel wonders if censuring circumcision is next?
The report clearly bears the biased mark of Calev Myers
, the Orthodox-bashing evangelical attorney
from the Jerusalem Institute of Justice
(JIJ). Indeed JIJ is cited in an especially lengthy rant on behalf of “messianic Jews” and against the counter-missionary organization Yad L’Achim
wonders if the State Department has nothing better to do than issue a protracted denunciation against Israel’s Jewish character. We’ve highlighted several pertinent points of interest and insanity from the report. So if you’re Goldstone-fatigued, and in need of a change in your choice of poison, read how Israel’s number one ally and friend brandishes their right to discredit the Jewish state and Jewish tradition in the name of religious freedom.
On the right to proselytize:
The report places an unusual emphasis on the right of missionaries to proselytize in Israel. This entitlement is mentioned throughout the lengthy report:
“Proselytizing is legal in the country and missionaries of all religious groups are allowed to proselytize all citizens.”
“Society's attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion generally were negative. Most Jews were opposed to missionary activity directed at Jews, and some were hostile to Jewish converts to Christianity. While proselytism is officially legal, missionaries continued to face harassment and discrimination by some Jewish activists and organizations.”
“Despite harassment, the number of Messianic Jews and evangelical Christians has grown in recent years through both immigration and conversion. During the reporting period, however, increased press
reporting and complaints from religious freedom activists indicated a corresponding increase in Yad L'achim and associated activism, and a growing wider backlash against the presence of evangelical Christian or Messianic Jewish congregations and missionaries living in Jewish communities. Exacerbating these tensions was the widespread but false belief that proselytizing is illegal in the country.”
It’s clear that the US State Department deems proselytizing a religious right (under the International Religious Freedoms Act of 1998), but it appears evident from the report that the majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens are opposed to, or feel harassed by, such a practice in the Jewish state - so much so that the populace makes the natural assumption that missionary activity is illegal (and, indeed, it should be).
On Jewish Tradition:
“The Government implements some policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law which thereby discriminates against citizens adhering to other religious groups.”
“The Orthodox Jewish establishment also determines who is buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox standards.”
“Members of unrecognized religious groups, particularly evangelical Christians, faced problems in obtaining marriage certifications or burial services that are similar to the problems faced by Jews who were not considered Jewish by the Orthodox establishment.”
“Jews in most professions were prohibited from working on the Sabbath unless granted a special permit by the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.”
“Governmental authorities prohibit mixed gender prayer services at religious sites in deference to the belief of most Orthodox Jews that such services violate the precepts of Judaism. At the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, men and women must use separate areas to visit and pray. Women also are not allowed to conduct prayers at the Western Wall while wearing prayer shawls, which are typically worn by Jewish men, and are not permitted to read from Torah scrolls.”
“In order to marry in government-recognized ceremonies, Jews had to undergo marriage counseling administered by the Orthodox religious authorities.”
“The Christian pilgrimage sites around the Sea of Galilee face periodic threats of encroachment from district planners who want to use parts of their properties for recreation.”
“The Government, through the Chief Rabbinate, discriminates against women in civil status matters related to marriage and divorce.”
“Although identification cards do not carry a religion or nationality designation, the Interior Ministry distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews on identification cards by printing the birth date of Jews in Hebrew letters according to the Jewish calendar while listing that of others according to the Gregorian calendar.”
On Yad L’Achim and counter-missionary activity:
The State Department gave significant voice to the JIJ’s persistent hounding of the counter-missionary group Yad L’Achim
. The full page plus section even critically draws upon a quote from the newspaper Yom L'Yom
claiming that Yad L’Achim "saved 174 souls from the clutches of the [Messianic and evangelical] mission" during the year.
remains puzzled as to why that particular accomplishment made it into the annals of State Department religious freedoms abuses.
JIJ also alleges that ”the Interior Ministry refused to process immigration applications from persons entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return if it was determined such persons held Christian or Messianic Jewish religious beliefs.”
The State Department may deem that an offense, but we think most Jews in Israel would be pleased to know that the Interior Ministry was on the job.
The report accuses Yad L’achim
of “crimes” and “abuses” ranging from “harassment to assault”.
The report lists a number of incidents including one on May 15, 2009 when “ultra-Orthodox residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot attacked and beat a group of Messianic Jews who were handing out New Testament pamphlets on the street. According to press reports, secular passers-by joined in the beating before police intervened to stop them.”
JIJ’s account should be used as a justification to adopt stringent counter-missionary legislation in Israel, because the Jewish citizens on the Jewish street in the Jewish state find proselytizing to be both highly disrespectful and provocative.
Agudath Israel of America reacts:
It’s been reported
that Agudath Israel of America’s
executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel issued the following statement regarding the U.S. State Department’s recent release of its “International Religious Freedom Report” for 2009:
“Much of the criticism of Israel in the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2009 is misplaced.”
“The United States is rightly proud of its tradition as a republic that embraces no official religion. But numerous other countries, with equal pride, define themselves as Muslim or Christian. One country was created as a Jewish state. Israel’s choice of timeless Jewish tradition in the public realm and with regard to issues of personal status requires no apology. Criticism of Israel for being true to its foundational ideal is ill-conceived.”
The Jerusalem Post
also issued a news story on the Religious Freedoms report.
The Bitter Irony:
feels the State Department’s report is a clear case of Judeo-Christian tolerance and values becoming tyranny.
In a sort of “clash of civilizations”, Jewish heritage and tradition has been pitted against American-style Freedom of Religion and Democracy (with a little Christian nationalism thrown in for good measure).
The bitter irony is that it was Orthodox Jew Michael Horowitz
of the Hudson Institute
, who in the mid-1990’s, teamed up with evangelicals and spearheaded the Congressional International Religious Freedoms Act of 1998 which would result in the current State Department reports which are now challenging Israel’s right to be a Jewish nation.
That this law and subsequent reports
would be used to defend missionary activity in Israel, promote “messianic” Christianity as Judaism, and pressure Israel
into withdrawing counter -missionary legislation, was written on the wall early on, and in a number of publications
. Why Jews like Michael Horowitz chose to ignore the signs is beyond us.
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For futher reading, see Jewish Israel's
section on Law and Ethics