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Is the civil marriage issue an obstacle to Israeli democracy?

CM 28/08/2021 3

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We Israelis like to boast our trademark as “the only democratic country in the Middle East,” but this is clearly mislabeled. For how could a truly Jewish democracy deny hundreds of thousands of its citizens the right to marry? The Jewish state has maintained this absurd fiction for 73 years now and it is time to correct a mistake that has brought so much suffering to so many.
We bemoan historical mistakes, such as Ben-Gurion’s expedient sellout to an eventually metastasizing Orthodoxy that grew to control governments or Dayan’s shortsighted relinquishing control of the Temple Mount to Islamist extremists. Until recently, we had become resigned to the various status quos, perhaps by apathy at their apparent immutability. Even the advent of a delicate coalition without ultra-Orthodox parties seemed to arouse only a faint hope and more obvious cynicism.
Suddenly, a glimmer of hope appears – in Tokyo! – that shines a spotlight on Israeli reality. Shock is exclaimed from all over the place at how Israel’s gold medalist can’t get married in Israel as if everyone forgot or never knew that hundreds of thousands of Artem Dolgopyat’s fellow immigrants from the former Soviet Union, not to mention that millions of native Israelis cannot either.

What? You don’t have civil marriage in Israel? Some of you Israelis have to go to Cyprus to wed? These are embarrassing questions in the 21st century, sparked a century ago by the Mandatory Government’s tricky decision to divide and conquer potential civil opposition by imposing religious rule on the population; hence the Islamic Wakf and its Jewish counterpart the Chief Rabbinate.
There is some traditional Jewish irony in the fact that Israel’s founding father also had to deal with the Chief Rabbinate as a fait accompli. Some things indeed haven’t changed much over the past eight decades, but we might have just begun to move toward a brighter future unless welcome change doesn’t get bogged down in our political swamp. The first step, on firmer ground, is the renewed effort to enact civil marriage.
It would be a misstep into our undrained political bog to let the ultra-Orthodox parties shift the debate from civil marriage to conversion. This would necessarily distract attention from the effort to achieve this vital first step toward actual democracy. The Rabbinate is fighting tooth, nail, and kashrut certificates against any change in what idolaters refer to as “the status quo.” But civil marriage is not a religious issue. It is one of the civil rights stated perfectly clearly in our Declaration of Independence.
 ARTIUM DOLGOPYAT, Gold Medal winner in the Olympic games in Tokyo, with his fiancée during a welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, earlier this month. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) ARTIUM DOLGOPYAT, Gold Medal winner in the Olympic games in Tokyo, with his fiancée during a welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, earlier this month. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
WHO WAS it that said you can will something, then actually do it? One relatively recent prophet, who traditionally was unappreciated in his own city, was Israel’s foremost influence on rural development, Raanan Weitz. Known popularly as “Mr. Development,” Weitz rose to head the Jewish Agency’s Rural Settlement Department for 21 years after joining the Jewish Agency in 1937, working for four decades to establish communities while blooming the desert.
As might be expected, he was a member of the workers’ party, Mapai. He returned to Palestine in 1937 after earning a doctorate in his profession in Italy and devoted the next 47 years to build the country. As with most pioneers in the old days, he had an idea of what the new state’s system of government should be. By the time I interviewed him for the World Zionist Organization Press Service in 1975, he had crystallized his vision of a representative Israeli democracy.
In his view, it would have a legislature whose members are elected by the votes of their constituents in parliamentary districts. The prime minister would be elected by popular vote, the winner of which would pick his or her cabinet (no more coalitions!). He called his federalization plan “Jerusalem, DC” – for David’s Capital.
With a government coalition lacking anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox parties to obstruct progress, fundamental changes in the structure of the Zionist experiment have become possible. They will not pass quietly, for it is a given that the same rabbis who stage mass protests in the streets whenever an alleged yeshiva scholar receives a draft notice will lead their disciples to riot against a certain change in the Basic Laws. Particularly, one that finally realizes the unfulfilled promise of the Declaration of Independence: citizens of the State of Israel will have the freedom of religion.
The time is long past for the only Jews in the world who are unable to marry freely are the citizens of the Jewish state. This absurdity will end only when matters of religion and state are separate. Inevitably, it will be up to the Knesset and the Supreme Court to rule on numerous critical issues, the first of which might be determining that the Chief Rabbinate is the sole authority over its constituents’ religious observance, but over no other branch of Judaism.
The haredim might block Jerusalem intersections (again), but passage of the law would be received by dancing in the streets of Ashdod and other areas where hundreds of thousands of former Soviet Jews would now be accepted as Jews and full citizens. In fact, they will be the first citizens of the first true Israeli democracy. For, until religion and state are separate – apparently good enough for millions of American Orthodox Jews – the so-called “public diplomacy” (propaganda) effort will stumble along referring to Israel falsely and hypocritically as a singular Middle Eastern democracy.
We have a long way to go to achieve such a noble goal, but the journey may finally begin with the real opportunity to enact civil marriage. The seed of democracy was planted in the Declaration of Independence, but it cannot grow and blossom in a Jewish state that pretends to be the “only democracy in the Middle East.” At best, or worst, Israel is the most liberal theocracy in a region where religious fundamentalism rules and whose citizens are denied the basic human right of freedom of religion.
The writer is a former chief copy editor and editorial writer of The Jerusalem Post. His novel, The Flying Blue Meanies, is available on Amazon.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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