'Knesset failing to change status quo on haredim'

Religious freedom lobbying group Hiddush decries failure of Knesset to deal with concerns of religion and state.

Haredim 390 (photo credit: Illustrative photo/Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusale)
Haredim 390
(photo credit: Illustrative photo/Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusale)
A religious freedom lobbying group levelled heavy criticism at the Knesset on Monday in its report on the parliament’s winter session, for failing to deal with pressing concerns of religion and state.
The review, produced by the pluralistic Hiddush organization, said that despite widespread discussion of the issues in the Knesset, particularly regarding discrimination against women and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment in the IDF, few practical achievements were made in addressing these concerns.
Hiddush also singled out MK Moshe Gafni of the ultra- Orthodox United Torah Judaism party for obstructing the implementation of the Trajtenberg Committee’s recommendations pertaining to education and employment in the haredi sector.
Gafni, who is chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, refused a request by The Jerusalem Post for comment on the report.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), who was praised by Hiddush for efforts to create greater separation between religion and state, said in response to the report that haredi parties are waging war on secular society.
“They have succeeded in blocking almost all legitimate initiatives relating to education, marriage, divorce, rabbinical courts, conversion and other issues besides,” he told the Post. Although Horowitz conceded that most recent governments have also not dealt adequately with the issues, he called the current coalition’s record on religion and state matters “far worse” than previous governments.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied the claim that none of the Trajtenberg Committee’s recommendations regarding the ultra-Orthodox sector have been implemented. It stated in response that the government has in fact begun to implement some of the recommendations of the committee – especially with regard to integration of haredim in the labor market.
Responding to an inquiry by the Post, the Prime Minister’s Office pointed to several achievements, including the transfer of responsibility for a government project providing public funding to support academic studies for 500 new haredi men every year – from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor to the Planning and Budget Committee of the National Council for Higher Education. The office also cited the continuation of funding for this haredi student project; the roll-out of a hi-tech educational project for ultra-Orthodox youth who have left the yeshiva fold; and the projected opening by the end of the year of an educational center for haredim in Jerusalem with capacity for 4,000 people.
Hiddush’s Director, Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, said however that the only way to deal with the issue in light of “haredi obstructionism” is for Likud and Kadima to form a “civilian government” without any ultra-Orthodox parties – in order to carry out “a revolution for religious freedoms and achieve equality in sharing the burden of military service.”
“The public expects that the recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee be implemented,” said Regev. “Particularly the teaching of core curriculum subjects [in ultra- Orthodox schools], haredi employment, the passage of an obligatory national service bill instead of the Tal Law and legislation to curb discrimination against women.”
Hiddush’s report noted that not one bill tackling the issue of discrimination against women passed even a preliminary hearing.
“The permanent partnership between the ultra-Orthodox parties and the coalition has again succeeded in neutralizing the Knesset’s ability to respond to developments in matters of religion and state,” the report said.
The report pointed to the Trajtenberg recommendations to limit government funding for full-time yeshiva students to five years, and to obligate ultra- Orthodox elementary schools to teach core-curriculum subjects – saying they have been ignored.
The report also cited Gafni’s comments to the Calcalist newspaper in October: “I don’t recognize the Trajtenberg Report and it doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned. I will not bring up at all the chapter relating to the ultra-Orthodox.
It is not relevant and is populist.”
He later told the Knesset Channel that he would not raise the recommendations in the finance committee that he chairs.