A new report by the U.S. State Department documents a rise in religious violence and state-sponsored discrimination over the last year. The report specifically mentions right-wing Haredi Jewish groups, and their undue influence on the Israeli government’s policies.Women are forced to sit in the back of many buses in Israel, and the largest bus company, Egged, has designated a number of bus routes ‘Orthodox’, requiring that female passengers sit in the back, or face harassment or violence against them. Gender segregation is also a policy around the ‘Western Wall’ holy site in Jerusalem. According to the State Department report, “Ultra-Orthodox ‘modesty patrols’ attempted to enforce gender separation and a path designated for ‘men only’ was installed opposite the Western Wall. Mixed-gender ceremonies have been banned in the Western Wall plaza. “
The report documented the fact that “approximately 360,000 citizens who immigrated from the former-Soviet Union under the Law of Return but are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate, cannot be buried in Jewish cemeteries, divorce, or marry within the country.”
The Law of Return is an Israeli law allowing any Jew from anywhere in the world to claim Israeli citizenship and move to Israel. Over one million immigrants have arrived from the former Soviet Union in the last twenty years, many of whom moved directly into settlements constructed on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.
According to the report, “Under the Law of Return, the government grants immigration and residence rights to individuals who meet established criteria defining Jewish identity and also to certain family members. Eligible family members include a child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew. The government uses a separate, more rigorous standard based on Orthodox Jewish criteria to determine the right to full citizenship, entitlement to government financial support for immigrants, the legitimacy of conversions to Judaism performed within the country, and Jewish status for purposes of personal and some civil status issues.”
Israel has no constitution, and calls itself a “Jewish and democratic” state. The U.S. government report outlines the discrimination against non-Jews that many contend is inherent in maintaining a state that claims to be both Jewish and democratic. According to the report, “governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued.”
Christian religious sects were prevented from getting visas from the Israeli government, and Christians were the subject of abuse by Jews in Israel. There were reports on Haredi Jews insulting and spitting at priests and nuns, and defacing with graffiti and throwing garbage and dead cats at monasteries in Jerusalem.
In the area of education, “The law permits the government to subsidize 55 to 75 percent of the expenses incurred by ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious schools”, while non-Jewish schools receive no equivalent subsidies. Jewish religious groups received tax exemptions not granted to other religious groups.
Rabbi Uri Redev, with the Center for Religious Freedom in Israel, said in response to the report, “It appears that when it comes to religious freedom Israel is closer to radical Islam countries than the Western democratic world.”