UTJ dismisses Zionist Union manifesto on religion and state as irrelevant

Party says it will insist on preservation of status quo in coalition agreement.

March 9, 2015 16:55
3 minute read.

YA’ACOV LITZMAN. (photo credit: YOEL LEVI)


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Despite the launch yesterday by the Zionist Union of a progressive and pluralistic election manifesto on religion and state issues, United Torah Judaism officials are unruffled by the promises made in the document.

For several days, the haredi media has been focusing on Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog’s ties to non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, and the Conservative movement in particular, especially his efforts as housing and construction minister to fund the building of non-Orthodox synagogues, as noted by the B'hadrei Haredim news website.

In the section on religion and state on the Zionist Union’s manifesto, the party promises to implement the obligation of the State of Israel to grant all citizens the fundamental right to establish a family, to fully and formally institutionalize the bond of partnership and to dismantle it in the manner in which they choose [according to the values of] equality.

This clause is essentially a declaration to allow civil marriage and end the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over marriage and divorce.

The Zionist Union also promised to establish strong ties between the state and “all the streams and denominations of the Jewish people, and to grant equal status to all religious communities,” which would mean giving equal legal standing to the Reform and Conservative denominations.

The manifesto also says that it will preserve the status of Shabbat and Jewish festivals as formal national holidays, but that it would allow cultural and leisure activities to make use of public facilities and to allow the operation of limited public transportation on those days.

The platform also addresses the contentious issue of Jewish conversion. It states that The Zionist Union will implement “a policy of lenient conversion” to encourage citizens and residents interested in conversion to complete their personal and familial journey to Judaism and the Jewish people “while strictly adhering to the values of pluralism and freedom of religion and conscience and through fostering cooperation with all streams and denominations in the Jewish people.”

The manifesto is in fundamental contradiction with the perspective of the haredi political parties, which reject any change to the control of the Orthodox religious establishment – including the Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry – over Jewish religious life.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, an official from UTJ said, however, that the party is unconcerned about party manifestos, labeling such documents as “merely pieces of paper,” and said that the only document of relevance would be the coalition agreement signed by all parties to the next government after the election.

“People shouldn’t get so excited about party manifestos,” the source said. “These things exist for seven days, but once the theater of elections is over, people calm down; so we shouldn’t make too big a drama out of it.”

The UTJ official opined that the pluralistic nature of the Zionist Union manifesto would not prevent the party from negotiating with the haredi factions and that the final coalition agreement would delineate the new government’s positions on all matters, including religion and state.

He said that in any negotiations, UTJ would seek to “preserve the status of yeshiva students, preserve the status of Shabbat [in the public domain] and preserve the status quo on all issues of religion and state.”

Such a stance would rule out the implementation of any of the principles outlined by The Zionist Union in its party platform.

The source said that UTJ prefers to form a coalition with a Likud-led government, as the Likud has historically been allied to the haredi parties, since its positions on religion and state, as yet undeclared formally, are more sympathetic to that of UTJ and Shas.

He said, however, that the Zionist Union manifesto would not deter UTJ from negotiating with the party if need be, noting as an aside that the only thing that would stop the party from negotiating with the Center-Left is the possible presence of Yesh Atid in the next government.

The director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, Yizhar Hess, said that he appreciates the fact that The Zionist Union included a progressive platform on religion and state issues in its manifesto, but said he does not believe any of the goals outlined in the document would be implemented in the next government, since it is very likely that the haredi parties will be coalition partners, regardless of which party leads it.

“It is clear to every intelligent voter in Israel that in all formulations the coalition will be formed with the haredi parties, and the likelihood of implementing the manifesto is very questionable, to say the least,” Hess told the Post.

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