'Fear of Shas and UTJ paralyzed the Knesset'

Hiddush NGO report calls last Knesset session "a waste," with nothing done to promote religious freedom, equality of service.

August 1, 2012 15:51
2 minute read.
The Knesset in Jerusalem

Great generic picture of Knesset 150. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)


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The Knesset did almost nothing to promote religious freedom in this year’s summer session, according to religious equality NGO Hiddush’s third annual report, which it released this week.

“Apparently fear of Shas and United Torah Judaism has paralyzed the Knesset, making it unable to solve problems related to freedom of religion and equality in the burden of [IDF and national] service,” Hiddush director-general Rabbi Uri Regev said.

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Calling the last few months “a waste,” the organization pointed out that MKs spent most of the session focusing on equality in the burden of service, but all eight bills and five no-confidence motions on the topic were voted down.

“The Knesset not only failed to pass a law for equality in the burden, but left behind a situation of legislative chaos,” the report reads, referring to the fact that the “Tal Law,” which enabled yeshiva students to defer army service, expired on Wednesday with no replacement. “The Knesset missed a historic opportunity and went on a long vacation in the middle of a national crisis.”

The report also points out that the Knesset did not find a solution for hesder yeshivot, which were part of the now-defunct Tal Law.

However, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation authorized a bill anchoring the national-religious yeshivot in legislation, which passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset.

The biggest accomplishment of the summer session, according to the report, is the Tzohar Bill, which passed in its first reading at the end of May.

The legislation, which MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Yisrael Beytenu) proposed, seeks to allow couples to register for marriage in the city or municipal jurisdiction of their choice, regardless of where they reside, something that at present is prohibited by law.

Hiddush lamented that the issue of discrimination against women was mostly absent from the Knesset’s agenda. Only one bill, by MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) was submitted, and it was voted down in a preliminary vote.

The NGO singled out MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) for criticism, because he was photographed tearing up a New Testament that missionaries had sent to the Knesset and throwing it in the trash.

In addition, the report mentioned anti-gay comments from MKs Anastasia Michaeli (Yisrael Beytenu) and Uri Ariel (National Union). Michaeli said most gay people had been sexually harassed when they were younger, and according to Ariel, gay enlistment in the military harms the IDF’s ability to fight.

“I hope the next Knesset will have the ability and the spine to deal with these issues,” Regev stated.

In a dig at the Likud’s alliance with haredi parties, Regev said that after the next election, “it is important that a coalition be formed without ‘natural partners’ that are hostile to freedom of religion. Only then can there be a civil revolution, for which the public in Israel is waiting.”

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