When Religious Freedom becomes Religious Tyranny

In its annual International Religious Freedoms Report on Israel and the “Occupied Territories”, The U.S. State Department accused Israel of “governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism”.

A disproportionate amount of the report is dedicated to depicting Torah traditions and Orthodox Judaism as oppressive, and to reporting on Israel’s “growing” but “harassed” community of apostate Jews and Christian missionaries.

The report cited that, “government allocations of state resources favored Orthodox (including Modern and National Religious streams of Orthodoxy) and ultra-Orthodox (sometimes referred to as "Haredi") Jewish religious groups and institutions, discriminating against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.”

The State Department was hypercritical of everything from Shabbat observance to Jewish marriage counseling, divorce law, and burial rights in Israel. Jewish Israel wonders if censuring circumcision is next?

The report clearly bears the biased mark of Calev Myers, the Orthodox-bashing evangelical attorney from the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ). Indeed JIJ is cited in an especially lengthy rant on behalf of “messianic Jews” and against the counter-missionary organization Yad L’Achim.

Jewish Israel wonders if the State Department has nothing better to do than issue a protracted denunciation against Israel’s Jewish character. We’ve highlighted several pertinent points of interest and insanity from the report. So if you’re Goldstone-fatigued, and in need of a change in your choice of poison, read how Israel’s number one ally and friend brandishes their right to discredit the Jewish state and Jewish tradition in the name of religious freedom.

On the right to proselytize:

The report places an unusual emphasis on the right of missionaries to proselytize in Israel. This entitlement is mentioned throughout the lengthy report:

“Proselytizing is legal in the country and missionaries of all religious groups are allowed to proselytize all citizens.”

“Society's attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion generally were negative. Most Jews were opposed to missionary activity directed at Jews, and some were hostile to Jewish converts to Christianity. While proselytism is officially legal, missionaries continued to face harassment and discrimination by some Jewish activists and organizations.”

“Despite harassment, the number of Messianic Jews and evangelical Christians has grown in recent years through both immigration and conversion. During the reporting period, however, increased press
reporting and complaints from religious freedom activists indicated a corresponding increase in Yad L'achim and associated activism, and a growing wider backlash against the presence of evangelical Christian or Messianic Jewish congregations and missionaries living in Jewish communities. Exacerbating these tensions was the widespread but false belief that proselytizing is illegal in the country.”

It’s clear that the US State Department deems proselytizing a religious right (under the International Religious Freedoms Act of 1998), but it appears evident from the report that the majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens are opposed to, or feel harassed by, such a practice in the Jewish state - so much so that the populace makes the natural assumption that missionary activity is illegal (and, indeed, it should be).

On Jewish Tradition:

“The Government implements some policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law which thereby discriminates against citizens adhering to other religious groups.”

“The Orthodox Jewish establishment also determines who is buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox standards.”

“Members of unrecognized religious groups, particularly evangelical Christians, faced problems in obtaining marriage certifications or burial services that are similar to the problems faced by Jews who were not considered Jewish by the Orthodox establishment.”

“Jews in most professions were prohibited from working on the Sabbath unless granted a special permit by the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.”

“Governmental authorities prohibit mixed gender prayer services at religious sites in deference to the belief of most Orthodox Jews that such services violate the precepts of Judaism. At the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, men and women must use separate areas to visit and pray. Women also are not allowed to conduct prayers at the Western Wall while wearing prayer shawls, which are typically worn by Jewish men, and are not permitted to read from Torah scrolls.”

“In order to marry in government-recognized ceremonies, Jews had to undergo marriage counseling administered by the Orthodox religious authorities.”

“The Christian pilgrimage sites around the Sea of Galilee face periodic threats of encroachment from district planners who want to use parts of their properties for recreation.”

“The Government, through the Chief Rabbinate, discriminates against women in civil status matters related to marriage and divorce.”

“Although identification cards do not carry a religion or nationality designation, the Interior Ministry distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews on identification cards by printing the birth date of Jews in Hebrew letters according to the Jewish calendar while listing that of others according to the Gregorian calendar.”

On Yad L’Achim and counter-missionary activity:

The State Department gave significant voice to the JIJ’s persistent hounding of the counter-missionary group Yad L’Achim. The full page plus section even critically draws upon a quote from the newspaper Yom L'Yom claiming that Yad L’Achim "saved 174 souls from the clutches of the [Messianic and evangelical] mission" during the year.

Jewish Israel remains puzzled as to why that particular accomplishment made it into the annals of State Department religious freedoms abuses.

JIJ also alleges that ”the Interior Ministry refused to process immigration applications from persons entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return if it was determined such persons held Christian or Messianic Jewish religious beliefs.”

The State Department may deem that an offense, but we think most Jews in Israel would be pleased to know that the Interior Ministry was on the job.

The report accuses Yad L’achim of “crimes” and “abuses” ranging from “harassment to assault”.

The report lists a number of incidents including one on May 15, 2009 when “ultra-Orthodox residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot attacked and beat a group of Messianic Jews who were handing out New Testament pamphlets on the street. According to press reports, secular passers-by joined in the beating before police intervened to stop them.”

JIJ’s account should be used as a justification to adopt stringent counter-missionary legislation in Israel, because the Jewish citizens on the Jewish street in the Jewish state find proselytizing to be both highly disrespectful and provocative.

Agudath Israel of America reacts:

It’s been reported that Agudath Israel of America’s executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel issued the following statement regarding the U.S. State Department’s recent release of its “International Religious Freedom Report” for 2009:

“Much of the criticism of Israel in the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2009 is misplaced.”

“The United States is rightly proud of its tradition as a republic that embraces no official religion. But numerous other countries, with equal pride, define themselves as Muslim or Christian. One country was created as a Jewish state. Israel’s choice of timeless Jewish tradition in the public realm and with regard to issues of personal status requires no apology. Criticism of Israel for being true to its foundational ideal is ill-conceived.”

The Jerusalem Post also issued a news story on the Religious Freedoms report.

The Bitter Irony:

Jewish Israel feels the State Department’s report is a clear case of Judeo-Christian tolerance and values becoming tyranny.

In a sort of “clash of civilizations”, Jewish heritage and tradition has been pitted against American-style Freedom of Religion and Democracy (with a little Christian nationalism thrown in for good measure).

The bitter irony is that it was Orthodox Jew Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, who in the mid-1990’s, teamed up with evangelicals and spearheaded the Congressional International Religious Freedoms Act of 1998 which would result in the current State Department reports which are now challenging Israel’s right to be a Jewish nation.

That this law and subsequent reports would be used to defend missionary activity in Israel, promote “messianic” Christianity as Judaism, and pressure Israel into withdrawing counter -missionary legislation, was written on the wall early on, and in a number of publications. Why Jews like Michael Horowitz chose to ignore the signs is beyond us.


For futher reading, see Jewish Israel's section on Law and Ethics

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Comment by ellen on November 2, 2009 at 10:01am
Staying with your thread of thought, I once wrote an article expressing similar feelings without alluding specifically to Christian doctrine.
...Our eager embrace and import of the American value system and lifestyle is perhaps the biggest threat facing Israel today. It has led to our loss of self, sovereignty and determination. American-style emancipation has resulted in our emasculation. So, our potential for swift victories in six-day wars, rescues at Entebbes, and very-clean overnight removals of enemy nuclear threats, have - for now - been relegated to history's dustbin.

Those of us who are hanging on to the Torah for dear life don't want to be assimilated, globalized, baptized, sodomized, and controlled or restrained so that the many multi-colored champions of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness can tread on us. But we do want the freedom to fulfill our mission and contribute to the world community in our own unique way.
....To ask Israel to assimilate and accept the concept of a liberating Judeo-Christian heritage as the answer to a threatening and oppressive Islamo-fascism is - for us - a spiritually stifling and simplistic solution. It would, in essence, annul our belief that Judaic values are universal values, which have been and can continue to be adapted to any culture or religion without infringing upon the belief systems of those independent faiths or communities, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. The moral and ethical contribution of Judaism is available to any community that strives to be creative, productive and wants to contribute to the greater good of mankind...
Comment by Sharbano on November 1, 2009 at 7:53pm
Well, I read part of the report but couldn't get through most of it. Is it any wonder that America is called an imperialistic, hegemonic country. What a self-righteous nation that desires to impart it's own ways on everyone else! When it comes to Israel I suspect it's the result of the Xtianization of the Jewish texts. From that belief it's assumed that the "Freedom" that the US enjoys should be the requisite institution for all other countries. As the purveryors of "G-d's knowledge" there is the arrogance of superiority which must be, or should be, adhered to by all others.

Is there any wonder that a prejudice will prevail against a Jewish Tradition that is considered an anathema by anyone subjected to a Xtian doctrine, which would include most all Americans. A report by the State Dept. merely reflects an underlying attitude prevalent among the many. If the Jew would only leave their "Pharisaic" Tradition, their Orthodoxy, all would be well. The world would be at peace, at last.
Comment by ShoshanaTunk on November 1, 2009 at 3:20pm
Well. I think that Hashem will be very proud of Israel. Despite the offer of the gold and silver of other gods Israel is still trying to be faithful to the G-d of Israel by trying to keep well away from idolatry and paganism. The New Testament is so full of mistakes that any Jew who has real knowledge of their own religion will know to keep far away from it. It is the vulnerable, ignorant Jews who fall prey to these missionaries who try to make them believe in an idolatrous, pagan creed. It is not a question of religious freedom, it is a question of preventing innocent, ignorant Jews being exposed to lies, deceit, propaganda, idolatry and pagnism. The Land of Israel was given to the children of Israel on conditon that they were faithful to the G-d of Israel and kept away from idolatrous and pagan gods. In order to keep our land we have to do what the G-d of Israel says and get rid of these missionaries. These missionaries disseminate spiritual poison so it is understandable that Jews do not want them in the holy land of Israel or anywhere near Jews who are trying to obey their G-d.

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