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Making Discrimination Kosher

It will be re-called that when the wife of Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party, was in hospital back in 2016 to give birth to one of their children, he insisted that she would not want to deliver her baby next to an Arab woman, whose baby might murder their child twenty years later.

What would Smotrich think of the fact that no less than 46% of Israeli doctors who were granted licenses in 2020 were from Arab and Druse families!

Given the degree of prejudice that his remarks exhibited, it is hardly surprising that the Religious Zionist Party that he heads and the charedi United Torah Judaism party have declared their intention to amend the Knesset’s Prohibition of Discrimination law.

The Law prohibits discrimination in supplying products and public services and giving entry based on the following grounds: race, religion, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, views, political affiliation, personal status, and paternity.

Should Smotrich and his like be successful in amending the Law, it does not take a great deal of imagination to envisage the numerous ways in which the consequences could be discriminatory.

Let’s start with separate maternity wards for Jews and Arabs, or allowing the owners of banqueting suites to bar certain couples from celebrating their marriages on their premises because of pressure exerted by the local rabbinate. It begins to sound a bit like apartheid in South Africa before F.W. de Klerk changed it all.

We only need to look around the Middle East at countries like Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to see how the unhealthy mix of religion and politics can lead to discrimination and a curtailment of civil liberties.

Any amendment to the Law prohibiting discrimination would in effect wipe out the commitment enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that the State of Israel would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

Those who want Israel to be a Halachic State would be delighted to see Smotrich succeed. However, those who support the values of liberalism and democracy need to stand up against any attempt to trample those values.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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