The State of Israel is a parliamentary democracy that does not have an official religion.
Israel’s mandate for religious freedom in the Jewish society is unassailable, but intolerance is a threat to Israel’s democratic ideals.
Although most Jews are secular, Orthodox Judaism’s complex honing of regulations to control the daily lives of Israelis generated considerable interest and controversy.
As a country in the Middle East committed to the free practice of religion for all, regardless of religious affiliation, Israel stands as an oasis of religious freedom.
Ironically, racism, homophobia and religious discrimination seem to be more prevalent on cyberspace, in Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) and on the streets.
From rabbinical prohibitions against renting homes to “non-Jews” to government crackdowns on left-wing activists, Israelis are grappling with their nation’s identity and character.
For years, the state of Israel recognized that only conversions to Orthodox Judaism made a non-Jewish person into a Jew. So, only a person who had converted to Judaism via the Orthodox movement would be automatically granted the right to emigrate to Israel under their Law of Return, and be registered in the state’s population registry as a Jew.
Almost 25% of school children in Israel are Palestinian Arab citizens. By almost all criteria, their education is inferior that given to Jewish children.
Think about it.
The ultra-Orthodox gender-based segregation in public transport (haredi bus lines) to violently push women to the back of the bus is offensive, humiliating and unjustifiable.
There are numerous incidents of religious fanaticism in Israel like Christians in Jerusalem who want Jews to stop spitting on them. And the list goes on and on.
Although the major issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are unrelated to religion and are actually questions of international law and human rights, religious fanaticism does play a role in perpetuating the Arab-Israeli conflict.
While there are numerous Jewish organizations – both within Israel and elsewhere – opposing this extremism, they are, as yet, much less influential than their opponents.
Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel
After the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has granted access and has restored and rebuilt Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
By contrast, between 1949 and 1967, when Jordan controlled the holy sites, all Israelis were forbidden from entering East Jerusalem, including the Old City. Under Jordanian rule, holy sites and Jewish cemeteries within East Jerusalem were desecrated.
Jerusalem is considered the holiest city not only in Judaism and Christianity but also in Islam.
The majority of Christians in Israel are Arabs belonging to the Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
The Druze community has a special standing in Israel for its contribution to the country’s defense.
Israel serves as a haven for the Bahá’í, a religious minority that originated in Persia and whose adherents have been routinely persecuted under the Islamic Shia government in Iran.
Israeli law mandates that everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, has the right to visit all holy places within Israel. Violators are subject to criminal prosecution and imprisonment for as many as five years.
In contrast to the respect Israel demonstrates for Muslim holy sites, Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip persecute non-Muslims, desecrating Jewish and Christian sites and oppressing Christian minorities.
On a lighter note, Israel serves as a safe haven for religious minorities persecuted in surrounding Muslim countries.
Despite Palestinian violence, Israel ensures freedom of worship and is funding more than 100 mosques as well as the salaries of Muslim religious leaders and paying for the upkeep of holy sites for all religions in Israel.
Religious extremism is incompatible with democracy
Adherents of monotheism arguably believe in the same god but, the fundamental difference lies on the commonality of religious traditions and beliefs that developed among the Hebrew tribes in the deserts of what is now known as Israel.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship on a particular holy days of the year but they share a significant and meaningful similarities that cannot be ignored – a belief in a single Creator of the universe and humanity.
However, the arguments that they may not be all worshiping the same god depend on how God is perceived.
Radical Islam and ultra-Orthodox Judaism, as a religion and a culture – seemed incompatible with liberal, democratic and American values. However, peaceful coexistence is possible in a democracy.
In reconciling their intent to worship the same god, their theological thinking is entirely different and emotionally abusive.
‘Does the religious revival mean there’s no hope for a democratic Jewish state?’
A new survey reveals 80 percent of Israeli Jews believe in God; 67 percent believe that the Jews are the chosen people; 65 percent believe that the Torah and precepts are God-given; and 56 percent believe in life after death.
According to the Guttman Center for Surveys, which operates under the auspices of the Israel Democracy Institute, pluralism shared by the majority is still the basis for a democratic Jewish state.
However, Israeli statehood is crumbling into a politics of crude, unrestrained, underhanded opportunism that is increasingly racist and less and less democratic.
In the face of Haredi rabbis for whom Judaism means the exclusion of women and evading civil obligations; ignoring the existence of the Palestinians are perpetuating the discrimination against Israel’s Arab population.
The choices we make are what set us free and human
The many differences and discrepancies within those three Abrahamic faiths seem irreconcilable. But in the long term, the choices we make are what set us free and human.
Customarily, many fundamentalists perception of One True God and beliefs varies wildly.
On a social and political level, they may find common ground. On a practical and theological level, there is no choice for that matter.
It is quite absurd and narrow-minded, that people of monotheistic faiths fail to recognize that violence against one another is not only undesirable but ungodly.
The Bible describes the creation of mankind as being in the image of God, which usually lead us to believe that the qualities of God can be seen in all mankind.
Man’s ability to love, hate and become jealous expressed in these emotions in appropriate ways are human characteristics that are reflections of God’s nature given to mankind at the time of creation.
However, peaceful outcome will not be sustainable when there is religious profiling and discrimination against non-Jews.
Frankly, it is quite unsettling that the ultra-Orthodox policies are what liberal Israeli and American Jews are so concerned about after all.
In reality, a separation of religion and state is essential for religious diversity and peaceful coexistence to prosper.
Most importantly, granting of equal rights and justice for all Israeli citizens regardless of gender, race, religion, and affiliations will ensure pluralism in predominantly Jewish society.
Ultimately, such decisive steps will further solidify Israel’s values as a legitimate democratic country.