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Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev & Chairman Stanley P. Gold

A message from Hiddush

Mar. 15, 2018
28 Adar, 5778

Dear Friends,

This past week has repeatedly tested the nerves and blood pressure of Israel’s politicians and provided headlines for every news bulletin and media outlet for days on end. It all evolved from the Haredi parties’ demand (particularly Health Tzar MK Yaacov Litzman who represents the Gur Chassidic Court in United Torah Judaism party) that a new bill be passed as a condition to passing the national budget.

This draft bill was appropriately and accurately labeled by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman as the "Draft-Dodging Bill", which he vehemently (and rightly) refuses to support. It all seems to lead to an early demise of this government coalition and new elections soon.

The crisis was averted at the last minute, not by finding a solution but rather by what we called "A masquerade ball" in an op-ed this week. Everybody agreed to play nice for a little while, so as not to bring down the government quite yet, understanding that they are voting for a bill which would ensure that no yeshiva student will be drafted if he doesn't want to serve. Still, the bill will go through drastic changes before it becomes law. There is no agreement on how to square this circle, but the crisis was postponed by a few months because the chasm between the Haredi demand to give up on drafting yeshiva students and the Supreme Court ruling that equality must be upheld cannot be bridged.

It is clear where the public is regarding this clash, including the constituency of the non-Haredi parties [see details of the recent Hiddush poll on the right], but in the business of political horse-trading this has limited impact. The fear of public retribution given in the election polls brought the politicians to vote for an untenable bill, claiming that it will be neutralized before the final vote. In short - a cynical game and an ugly display of masks and media spins.

It is just a question of time, then, until the next crisis occurs, anchored again in the unholy alliance of religion and politics in Israel, because the agreement reached between the parties explicitly allows the Haredi parties to repeat their demands for religious legislation if and when the Supreme Court rules on any of the religion-state cases pending before it (conversion and the Kotel controversy being only two examples). There is little doubt, for instance, that the Court would be ruling in favor of the petitions submitted on behalf of the non-Orthodox converts; and there is little doubt, therefore, regarding the next crisis.

It will happen sooner rather than later, and it will again focus on the clash over religion and state, and it will again feature the void between the theocratic demands of the Haredi parties and the core principles of democracy and religious freedom as upheld by the Supreme Court and embraced by the overwhelming majority of Israelis and world Jewry.

Stay tuned, share with your friends, and sign on to the Vision Statement on Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State.

Sincerely,

Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush Chair

Rabbi Uri Regev,
Hiddush President



 

79% Israelis oppose draft dodging
by yeshiva students

A new survey reveals how strongly the Israeli public is opposed to the demand of the ultra-Orthodox parties to pass a new 'Basic Law: Torah study', as well as an amendment to the Defense Service Law to legalize the continued draft dodging of most yeshiva students.


Click for larger graph


A new Hiddush survey, conducted by the Smith Polling Institute reveals how strongly the Israeli public is opposed to the demand of the ultra-Orthodox parties to pass a new 'Basic Law: Torah study', as well as an amendment to the Defense Service Law to legalize and legitimate the continued draft dodging of most yeshiva students from either military or civilian service.

Among those who expressed their opinions, 79% of the adult Jewish public opposed the demand of ultra-Orthodox parties, including a large majority of voters for the civil coalition parties [81% of the Likud voters, 91% - Kulanu, 88% - Jewish Home, 94% - Yisrael Beiteinu]! An even larger majority of voters for the opposition parties were against this legislation [100% - Yesh Atid, 95% - Zionist Union, 96% - Meretz].

At stake is not only the principle of sharing Israel's civic burden, but also the question of whether there is a limit to the obsequiousness of the civil parties in dealing with the ultra-Orthodox politicians' blackmail (and the rabbis who pull their strings). This is a test for both the coalition parties and for the opposition parties, in view of the broad public opposition to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox parties. Now it is clearer than ever that the public will call to account those who continue to treat equality of civic burden and blood as up for sale. In light of the compelling findings, Hiddush fully expects, as does the general public, the ruling Coalition parties and the Opposition parties to declare unequivocally, 'No!' They must make it clear that they will not buy the ultra-Orthodox parties' political support at the price of spitting in the public's face and spitting in the faces of their very own constituents. This clear statement must be heard because not everything is for sale, and the general Israeli public has principles too!

This telephone survey was conducted by the Smith Institute on February 28 and March 1, 2018, among a representative sample of Israel's adult Jewish population. The sampling error is ±4.5%.

Click HERE to read more



60% of State funds for "youth at risk"
go to ultra-Orthodox

Hiddush’s mission to advance religious freedom and equality includes an attempt to identify and eliminate “pork barreling” in the religion-state arena, especially when they masquerade as ‘holy.’ Hiddush is in court now to get to the bottom of the use of scarce public funds available to address the challenge of children at risk.

Our monitoring has uncovered that 60% of the funding provided by Israel’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services for helping youth at risk went to ultra-Orthodox institutions. Given that only 15% of the Israeli Jewish population is Haredi, this data point raised significant questions!

Is this a case of political corruption and abuse of public funds, wherein the Ministry favors ultra-Orthodox private institutions over others? Or – is it possible that ultra-Orthodox youth are more likely to be “at risk” than the youth of other populations?

Hiddush issued a Freedom of Information Request to the Ministry in June 2017, asking for answers to the following questions:

1) How does the Ministry define “youth at risk” among different demographics in Israeli society, including Arabs, secular Jews, Zionist Orthodox Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews, formerly Orthodox Jews, etc.

2) How are the government funds for providing services to at risk youth actually distributed and how are they being used by the institutions that receive them?

Rather than provide the information they are obligated to disclose, after much back-and-forth over many months, the responses we received were partial at best. Hiddush was not provided with any information about the use of government funds distributed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services to these private institutions. Further, the Ministry claimed that only one universal definition of “youth at risk” exists for all of Israel’s demographic populations. However, this flies in the face of evidence gathered by Hiddush.

In 2013, the Ministry issued a tender to yeshivas for the education and treatment of Haredi youth at risk, providing its definition of “youth at risk” in the ultra-Orthodox community. This includes dressing “improperly” in Haredi communities, using coarse language, sexual behavior that goes against the grain of community values, and sporadic use of alcohol. In short, any Haredi youth behaving like a secular Israel would fall under the definition of “youth at risk” provided in the Ministry’s tender, and thereby be eligible for state funding as “youth at risk”!

In ultra-Orthodox society, the pressure to conform to ultra-Orthodox extreme religious norms is tremendous. It views “winning over” secular youth favorably; but is adamant about preventing Haredi youth from pursuing their natural urges or free intellectual exploration. Psychiatric drugs are often prescribed at the behest of rabbis, yeshiva “supervisors” and marriage counselors to yeshiva students, men, seminary girls and married in some ultra-Orthodox circles [see HERE for instance]. Many natural human behaviors (like masturbation and homosexual impulses) put Haredim in conflict with their communities, leading many to the point of depression.

Medications to dull human desires are even prescribed for patients by cooperating psychiatrists who have never properly examined “their” patients. Given this background, the Ministry’s refusal to fully answer Hiddush’s freedom of information request is particularly troubling.

Last week, after many months of obfuscation by Ministry staff, Hiddush filed a petition with the courts demanding that the Ministry fulfil its obligations under the Freedom of Information Law. Our investigation is heating up – and Hiddush will continue to pursue this matter tenaciously until the full facts are disclosed. If our initial information is proven accurate we will then take the matter further to stop this suspected abuse of public funds and highly questionable policies.

 
 

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