Kadima candidates face off on religion, state

Livni skeptical about compromise with ultra-Orthodox parties; Mofaz: Haredim understand they must serve in IDF.

Mofaz Netanyahu Livni 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mofaz Netanyahu Livni 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Kadima leadership candidates Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz faced off on issues of religion and state at an event hosted by the Pluralistic Faction in the Masorti Movement on Sunday.
Religion and state should not be totally separate in Israel, Livni said at the event in Kfar Saba, but religion and politics must be separate to some degree. She called for Judaism to be symbolically connected to Israel, but said that all citizens must have freedom.
“In Israel, everyone must be given an equal chance,” Mofaz declared. “Israel must be more liberal, and update itself for 2012.”
The Kadima MK added that marriage has become a major issue on the political agenda that must be resolved, saying that “no one can take away the right to start a family,” and the government must be sensitive and flexible on these matters.
However, when asked specifically if he will allow Conservative rabbis to marry couples, Mofaz said that he believes civil marriages should be expanded to include Jewish people.
Livni also discussed civil marriages as the best way to reach a compromise with the rabbinate.
However, Livni was skeptical about the possibility of ever compromising with haredi parties, citing her experiences as immigrant absorption minister and justice minister with matters of conversion and rabbinical courts, in which she was unable to reach a middle ground.
She said a strong Kadima is necessary in order to build a coalition without haredi parties that would bring equality in the “burdens” relating to the military and economic arenas by requiring haredim to serve in the IDF and study the Education Ministry’s core curriculum.
“I have nothing against haredim; they are part of my nation. I am not trying to split the nation; I am for unity. We need to be united around a joint purpose,” Livni said, explaining that a core curriculum would teach values like democracy, which would in turn encourage young haredim to enlist in the IDF and join the workforce.
If changes are not made soon, she added, citizens of Israel will pay the price for years to come.
Mofaz predicted that there would be more social protests this summer, which would be focused on the “unequal division of the burden.” He explained that, as chief of staff in the IDF, he opposed the Tal Law, which allowed full-time yeshiva students to receive an exemption from IDF service, on grounds that it legalized inequality.
As chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he said that he was working on new legislation to replace the Tal Law, which will allow the IDF to choose which 18-year-olds it will recruit and which should do civilian national service.
Mofaz explained that he has discussed the matter with haredi leaders, saying that they understand the importance of IDF service and that it will help haredim join the workforce.
Livni closed her speech by encouraging Kadima members to vote on Tuesday.
“The weather report says it will drizzle on Tuesday,” she said. “If you let the drizzle stop you on the way to the polls, you will be responsible for the downpour in Israel’s future.”
Meanwhile, sources close to Mofaz and MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) denied a report that Mofaz had promised Dichter his post as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in return for Dichter quitting the race and endorsing him on Thursday.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.