An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man kisses the Western Wall.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Hiddush religious pluralism lobbying group has criticized what it says is the dramatic increase in the government budgets for religious services and yeshiva funding made following the formation of the current government last May.
The organization also censured legislation and government measures relating to religion and state issues in the Knesset’s winter session, which ended last week, such as haredi enlistment to the IDF, Shabbat in the public realm, mikvaot and statements of MKs against the non-Orthodox movements.
Hiddush pointed out that in 2014, during the last government, the budget of the Religious Services Ministry was NIS 376 million. By comparison, the budget for the ministry in 2015 grew to NIS 511m., an increase of 36 percent.
With other budgetary allocations, that figure rises to NIS 828m. for the year.
In 2014, after swingeing cuts to yeshiva budgets were made by the previous government, state funding for these institutions amounted to NIS 454m. In 2015, this jumped to over NIS 1 billion, an increase of 120%.
Budgetary increases were also made for organizations defined as Jewish culture groups, which are mostly Jewish religious outreach groups and bodies associated with haredi political parties.
These funds increased from NIS 48m. in 2014 to NIS 150m. in 2015.
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A government order restoring income support payments to poor, full-time haredi yeshiva students was also highlighted as problematic, since the High Court of Justice has struck down such payments as discriminatory twice in recent years.
Hiddush also strongly criticized government measures on religious issues in the Knesset’s winter session, saying it had been particularly active on these matters following the approval of the budget in the last session.
In particular, it noted that the government gutted the 2014 law that would have implemented large-scale haredi enlistment to the IDF by 2017, pushing off that date until 2023.
The organization denounced efforts to pass a law that would circumvent a Supreme Court ruling made in February this year that said local religious councils could not ban non-Orthodox conversion ceremonies in public mikvaot.
Hiddush also pilloried comments made by senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni earlier this month, who called on principals of haredi schools not to cooperate with the department for haredi education within the Education Ministry.
Gafni made his comments in relation to the controversy over discriminatory acceptance policies of some haredi schools, and allegations of state interference in the religious studies curriculum of haredi schools.
Likud MK Miki Zohar’s bill to close all commercial stores on Shabbat also came in for criticism from Hiddush as coercive.
“This Knesset session was one of the worst in the history of the relationship between religion and state in Israel,” said Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev.
“Massive budgets were authorized that will encourage haredi men to stay in yeshiva instead of going out to work, educational institutions will be funded without teaching core curriculum subjects, and the struggle for equality in bearing the military burden was set back many years.
“No less serious are the policies in Knesset of approving laws that are unconstitutional. This coalition is emerging as an enemy of democracy, the rule of law and religious freedom.”
Regev also criticized the opposition for failing to adequately call the government to account for its problematic religion and state measures.
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