A sentiment that’s been expressed about the incoming government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is that it should be judged by its actions rather than its personalities.
It’s a wishful-thinking sentiment expressed mostly by level-headed citizens and leaders – both Israeli and international – who have been able to keep a modicum of hope that the new coalition won’t possibly be as damaging to the country and undemocratic to its principles as some of those personalities have stated in their intentions.
However, as Jews around the world lit the eighth candle for Hanukkah on Sunday night, that flickering glimmer of light came very close to going totally dark.
The light of hope in Israel may go out
Already, over the weekend, it had come to light that the coalition agreements between the Likud, United Torah Judaism and the Religious Zionist Party include a clause that would enable discrimination in private businesses based on religious belief.
The agreement would amend a law – which was supported by Netanyahu’s Likud when it was voted in – barring such discrimination to allow a private business to refuse to provide a product or service due to religious belief.
The law’s nickname is the “Motti Steinmetz Law,” named after the well-known haredi (ultra-Orthodox) musician whose gender-segregated concert in Afula was deemed illegal discrimination by the High Court in August 2019.
The RZP gave an example in a statement, saying, “an ultra-Orthodox or religious barber cannot be required to shave a man’s beard with a razor in his private business.” However, pro-LGBTQ groups warned that the law could be used to normalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community in privately owned businesses. The amendment could also be distorted to include refusal of service to other sectors of society, based on the whim of the vendor.
That affront to any progressive democracy took an even bigger hit on Sunday when RZP MK Orit Struck doubled down on the intent of the amendment by claiming that doctors should have the right not to serve people from the LGBTQ community if it is against their religious belief and there is another doctor who can treat them.
“The country’s laws express its moral code,” she told a KAN radio interviewer in attempting to justify the amendment.
These views, which fit more closely to a totalitarian regime like Iran rather than a purported democracy, were met with widespread condemnation, including that of President Isaac Herzog.
While failing to mention the culprits by name, Herzog wrote: “The racist comments in recent days against the LGBTQ community and in general against different sectors and publics deeply worry and concern me.”
He added that a situation in which citizens of Israel feel threatened because of their identity or belief undermines the core democratic and moral values of Israel, and that he would act with all his power as president to prevent harm to different parts and populaces in the public.
Netanyahu was also forced to put out a statement, saying Struck’s comments were unacceptable and “the Likud will ensure that there will be no harm to LGBTQ people or any Israeli citizen.”
“The Likud will ensure that there will be no harm to LGBTQ people or any Israeli citizen.”Benjamin Netanyahu
Is this how the new government is going to play out?
The Likud’s coalition partners will continue to eat away at the democratic nature of the country and Netanyahu will respond with a “don’t look behind the curtain” reassurance that he’s in control, not them?
As Tzvi Joffre wrote in Monday’s Post, “Playing around with discrimination, especially in a religious state like Israel, is a dangerous game. While the law can and has been harmful to religious freedom, simply ‘loosening the reins’ simply transfers the harm elsewhere and often even rebounds. At what point does religious freedom simply become a license for oppression?”
“Playing around with discrimination, especially in a religious state like Israel, is a dangerous game. While the law can and has been harmful to religious freedom, simply ‘loosening the reins’ simply transfers the harm elsewhere and often even rebounds. At what point does religious freedom simply become a license for oppression?”Tzvi Joffre
If it’s indeed true that Netanyahu has given his coalition partners the powers to freely discriminate and suppress freedoms, then all lines of democratic values have been crossed.
It’s time for Netanyahu to put his feeble declarations that he’s the one in charge of the coalition into action.
He needs to put his foot down and take ownership of the government he has cobbled together.
Otherwise, we are headed for dark times that even eight candles of light will not be of help.