Israelis are liberals, Policy isn’t

I think that Israelis are fairly liberal, or gradually becoming more liberal. Even in more conservative communities and sectors. By the way, I should note this to my none-Israeli readers that liberalism in Israel and liberalism in the US are not identitcal or even close. In fact, I think many of Israeli liberals will not view American liberals today as true liberals. Liberalism in Israel is right-wing thing. There are, of course self-proclaimed liberals in the Israeli-left but they are more similar to the American liberals.

liberal or libertarian? (credit: Pixabay)

But even though Israelis are becoming more and more liberals, there are policies that are not liberal. The main reasons in my opinions are (1) Mapai party, the Socialist party that ruled between the late 40’s to the late 70’s wasn’t liberal. (2) appeasement to ultra-religious and usually not zionist parties that didn’t support secularism and liberalism.

You can only marry to someone from your own religion and only in a religious ceremony.

This policy is dating back to the days of the Ottoman occupation of Israel. It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim or a Druze. You want to get married in Israel? You can only marry someone from your own religion, in a religious ceremony. And I don’t know how it is like for other religions, but for Jews it has so much headache and bureaucracy involved.

In Israel, to be recognized as a Jew for marriage you need to be Jew according to orthodox Jewish law – Halacha. There are many people in Israel who might view themselves as Jews but are not considered like this by orthodox law. And in many cases of couples of a Jew and a non-Jew that I know of, one of the main solutions for them is conversion, and many times it means conversion to Judaism. Now, I’m not sure how the process for conversion to other religions is in Israel, but from what I know they are simple in opposition to the long and exhausting process of converting to Judaism. Part of it is because Judaism, espcially the orthodox-haredi version of it, don’t want to make more followers and expand. Its not a missionary religion.

Another problem is that Jewish men, recognized as Cohanim (usually have last names like Cohen, Katz, Kagan and Rappaport) cant get married with a woman that got divorced or converted to Judaism.

Another problem with this policy that it doesn’t allow “same-sex” marriage, since there is no civil alternative for marriage and it has to be done according to religious laws. So the LGBT community are excluded.

So what are the alternatives that mixed couples and homosexual couples have? Well it seems that the main alternative is to go abroad and get married in countries that allow them to get married and later on register in Israel. Yes, mixed couples and homosexuals cant get married in Israel but can get married outside and than register as married. That seems weird and contradictive. But this is just a result of an outdated policy from hundreds of years ago.

Different Vices

Some vices will always remain in dispute even among liberals. But there are different voices on how to deal with drug use, gambling and sex-industry.

As for drug use, I think there is not dispute among liberals that recreational use of cannabis should be decriminalised and legalized. Some will prefer it to be just decriminalised or sold with age restriction. Few of the reasons is that people afraid that teens will be intoxicated or that soldiers use it during their service and it might have dangerous consequences. [note: Military service is mandatory in Israel. Many liberals believe it should be turned into a volunteer based professional army]. As for other drugs and substances you might here different opinions but some will support decriminalising every use or abuse because liberalism, in the end means personal freedom and personal responsibility.

Gambling isn’t something that I hear people talk about much. Gambling, too is illegal. Including card games like poker. Though there are legal gamblings supported by the state. One is the Israeli lottery and the other when is the Israeli Toto which is sports (mainly soccer) gamblings. Those organizations donate part of their proceeds to the community or to sports (the lottery even offer scholarships for students who volunteer). I think though that a liberal approach would be supportive of allowing gambling outside of the lottery and toto, but on the other hand I think Israelis are not open enough to it or fear of a gambling culture.

Sex-industry is an umbrella term for different forms of sex-work. It is used by those who oppose prostitution and the sex industry. I think most people both liberal and non-liberals agree and realise there is a world-problem of modern sexual slavery and human trafficking. People are kidnapped, sold, abused, exploited, beaten and tortured against their own will. This phenomenon should be stopped by all means. Everyone deserves freedom and choice.

What should be considered prostitution. Is porn a form of prostitution? Striptease? Are gold-diggers are prostitutes and gigolos? If those situations constitute prostitution should the client/consumer/customer should be arrested? If people are driven to prostitution for socio-economic reasons, how you give them the ability to choose other work, or quitting this?

This topic is very complex and sensitive. I think that from a true liberal stand point 2 things should be done in this area as soon as possible. The first one is increasing efforts to stop human trafficking world wide. The second one is to cancel minimum wage. You might ask, what is that have to do with anything and I will answer.

By placing minimum wage we are weakening the economy. Prices of commodities and services go up, employers can employ less people, and when they need to make a choice of who to hire they need to be way more selective. Putting minimum wage is a political tactic to stop certain groups joining the job force.

By canceling it employers could hire more people, more people would have job opportunities, prices of commodities and services will go down and so will the inflation. What it means is people could more easily find a job, and could afford living. And if we had to that more liberal economy fixes this might improve this situation.

In a world with less trafficking (I don’t know how practical it is to fully stop it though we should try) and more work opportunities, people who actually DECIDE to work in the sex industry had a real actual choice. Maybe they enjoy it. Maybe they get paid a little bit better and they actually have the opportunity to quit when they want and have better chances of getting another job.


It’s the hot topic in last couple of days. It seems that the Israeli welfare ministry don’t want to allow homosexual couples the opportunity to adopt children. Some people support this opinion, but from what I see the majority seemed really mad about this position. I think that most liberals if not all of them, do not agree with the welfare ministry.

But some of the reactions were amusing, because people thought that it is a sign that the state will find more ways to regulate and decide who will become parents. And it seems it already does. If you didn’t finish 12 years of school, you are not eligible to become a parent. If you don’t have some salary you cant be a parent. If the child you want to adopt is from a different religion you cant become his parent.

Now, of course I understand that the welfare ministry wants to make sure that the child will be taken care of as best as possible. But people can take care of children even they didn’t finish 12 years of schools. Some even got a college degree without finishing school. Some could be even upper-class. And why would they assume that 2 fathers or 2 mothers can take care of a child better than a single-parent? Seems that they think that it will be too much for a child to be both adopted and to be raised by homos. He might feel irregular or something. But the fact that there is so much outrage in the public just shows that the public can accept this families, and more than that, millennials that grew up to homosexual parents spoke out about their experiences and actually explained how they weren’t so different from anyone else, nothing was taken away from them.

So to wrap this up, I think Israelis are liberals or are turning gradually into liberals. They want different policies, they expect different things from the government and authorities, but the policy is changing real slowly. I mean, we still are confined to marrying according to our religions because of law that was written by an occupier hundreds of years ago. And we have other useless laws from the Ottoman occupation and British occupation (“mandate”). It is time for the policy makers to wake up.

About the Author
Dov Trachtman is an Israeli political analyst and cultural critic.
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