Supreme Court President Aharon Barak dropped a potential bombshell on Sunday when he said Israelis are being deprived of their rights by being prohibited from marrying in civil ceremonies.
Responding to questions from a delegation of US Conservative Jews, Barak said, "The lack of civil marriage in Israel is a major violation of human rights." He was referring to failed attempts by Israeli political leaders to legislate some form of marriage or "civil union" for those who don't want or can't have Orthodox weddings.
According to the law, all Israeli citizens must marry under the auspices of their faith, and mixed marriages are not allowed. The religious courts in the Jewish sector are controlled by the Orthodox stream.
During the term of the 16th Knesset a special committee was established by the coalition government at the insistence of the now-defunct Shinui Party to address the issue. However, the committee collapsed.
Shinui then drafted its own law to allow Israelis to be married in a non-religious ceremony and, for couples who did so, to be accorded all the rights to those married in religious ceremonies. Soon after, however, Shinui resigned from the government and the initiative died.
Since then, the New Family organization headed by Irit Rosenblum, and attorney Michael Corinaldi, have been pressing the High Court of Justice to hear petitions paving the way for consuls of foreign embassies in Israel to marry couples if one of them is a citizen of the foreign state.
Rosenblum has also indicated that New Family intended to petition the High Court to order the Interior Ministry to register any Israeli couple united in a civil ceremony as married.
On another subject, Barak explained that the Supreme Court is obliged to hear all District Court decisions that are appealed. This, coupled with the fact that the High Court hears most petitions from the public against the government, imposes a heavy burden on the court of 15 justices.
He noted that the legislature has slightly changed the situation by allowing certain petitions to be heard by the district courts.
In general, however, legislators "always complain" that the Supreme Court has too much power but refuse to change the law so that it can reduce its case load, he said.
Barak refused to answer some of the delegation's questions because they pertained to matters currently under review by the court. These included the matter of the fee being charged those coming to worship at the Conservative prayer site located at the Western Wall's Robinson's Arch site. The Masorti (Conservative) movement has petitioned the High Court of Justice against the NIS 30 fee collected from each member of a Masorti minyan.
Robinson's Arch was allocated to the movement by the government for prayer services in August 1999. The Masorti movement considers the fee discriminatory, since worshipers visiting the gender-segregated section of the wall north of Robinson's Arch are not charged.
The delegation was made up of representatives from Project ReConnect, a group looking to improve ties among alumni of the movement's various programs.