Advocates for Religious Pluralism in Israel Buoyed by Election Results

Yesh Atid's Surprising Popularity May Help Bring Changes

Cause for Celebration: Secular Israelis and Reform Jews proclaim ‘Jerusalem is not Tehran’ in a 2010 protest in Jerusalem.
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Cause for Celebration: Secular Israelis and Reform Jews proclaim ‘Jerusalem is not Tehran’ in a 2010 protest in Jerusalem.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published February 03, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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In the Haredi-run party United Torah Judaism, the sense that change is afoot has overshadowed its election success, which saw it increase its seats to seven from five. “We are worried about everything: Reform buses on Shabbat. We’re in Israel not in New York,” Yerach Tucker, spokesman for UTJ lawmaker Moshe Gafni, commented to the Forward.

It is a matter not just of platforms, but also of personalities. Andrew Sacks, director of the religious affairs bureau of the Israeli Conservative movement, said that he sees many elected Knesset members as “very sympathetic” to his movement and its desire for religious change.

Another source of optimism is the fact that despite its Orthodox ideology, the Religious-Zionist Jewish Home party has shown some openness to a liberalizing agenda on religious affairs. “It’s time to open all the issues of religion and state as a whole, because reality has changed,” party leader Naftali Bennett said in an election night speech. “It’s time to sit down with all parties and groups in dialogue and mutual respect, and we will discuss together creating a new assembly in Israel in the field of religion and state.”

The expiration last summer of the Tal Law, the legislation that exempted Haredi men from national service, ushered in a new atmosphere in Israeli politics, propelling the Haredi draft to the center of the national agenda. The question is whether Lapid will take the view that he should deal with this vote-winning issue and stop there, or continue and focus on other religion-related issues.

Ben-Gurion University political scientist Guy Ben-Porat, who is about to publish a new book on state and religion in Israel, said: “Lapid’s main platform is on religious [national] service. It’s a very easy and popular target, and I don’t think he’ll go beyond that.”

But many activists disagree. “The military draft is just part of the whole picture — to suggest otherwise is like saying that Rosa Parks was struggling for seating arrangements on a particular bus,” Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Reform movement’s lobbying arm, the Israel Religious Action Center, told the Forward.


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