Redlines for reform

by Brian on April 13, 2023

in In the News,Politics

When our kids start talking about what their “redlines” are – changes that could take place in Israel that would make them reconsider their commitment to living here – I know something has gone seriously wrong. 

In all our years here – buffeted by low salaries, runaway inflation, two deadly Intifadas, rockets from Gaza, missiles from Baghdad, terrorists ramming cars into innocent pedestrians and firing bullets at bars in Tel Aviv – never has anyone in our family suggested leaving might be an option.

As I write this, it’s not clear what will be with the judicial reform. It might already have passed, it might be on pause with dialogue finally taking place. Even in the case of the latter, it’s entirely likely this government will try to revive some or all of their inflammatory proposals once the hundreds of thousands of protesters have returned home and declared “victory.”

I like to be prepared for any eventuality. So, what’s on our list of redlines?

1. Religiously-imposed dress codes. If the theocracy-in-the-making were to dictate mandatory garb for men and women – head covering and modest attire for the ladies, kippa and tzitzit for guys – that would be too much like Iran. If a law – already mooted by Shas – that would either imprison or fine a woman wearing a tallit or holding a Torah scroll at the Kotel were to pass, with no Supreme Court able to strike it down, could we still live here? 

2. Closure of non-Orthodox synagogues. In the mid-1980s, both men and women danced with a Torah scroll outdoors on Simchat Torah in our Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka. The local haredim didn’t agree with their “desecration” of the holiday and snatched the scrolls. The resulting outrage led to the municipality granting land to Kol HaNeshama, the Reform synagogue at the center of the controversy. What will happen, though, if the courts have been so eviscerated, they can no longer stop patent discrimination?

3. Freezing bank accounts. If enough citizens start moving their savings out of Israel to overseas banks, that could prompt a panicked coalition to freeze our ability to do so, or to even seize accounts. This is an example where you have to act fast – once the law has changed, you’re financially screwed. 

4. Closing businesses on Shabbat. The ultra-Orthodox have for years been trying to shut down commerce on Shabbat and holidays. Compromises and adherence to the status quo have kept Tel Aviv hopping on the weekend, but that could be a thing of the past. Public transportation on the Sabbath? Forget about that anytime soon.

5. Changing voting laws. With unbridled power to pass whatever law it sees fit with limited judicial oversight, the current coalition – it’s not outrageous to suggest – could alter voting laws to ensure a center-left coalition is never again able to win an election. Just legislate a Basic Law that says Jewish parties must pass a 3.5% threshold to enter the Knesset but Arab parties must clear a higher bar, say 7%. Or perhaps the ultra-religious parties would like to ban women or those not considered Jewish according to halacha from voting at all. It’s not like such individuals can ever be members of Knesset in those parties.

6. Illegal military action. If Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s racist proclamations – including an unconvincingly retracted call to “wipe out” the Palestinian village of Huwara – result in more violence and death, will that be too much? What if the coalition moves to unilaterally annex the West Bank while depriving Palestinians the right to vote? Are we comfortable living in outright Apartheid?

7. No more non-Orthodox “weddings.” Marriage has always been contentious in the Holy Land, with weddings conducted by Conservative and Reform rabbis not recognized by the Interior Ministry. It’s not a stretch to ban those ceremonies entirely. “Fine,” you say, “it’s just a party with a DJ; we already got married legally in Cyprus or online via the state of Utah.” For the latter, the courts have ruled that these weddings must be accepted in Israel. Look for that to be struck down, too.

8. Segregation on buses and beaches. The ultra-Orthodox parties have made no bones about this one: They don’t want men and women to fraternize. That’s what’s behind proposals to increase the number of segregated beaches, behind moves to legalize separation at events paid for by taxpayers, and what’s behind Israel’s messianic Rosa Parks struggle where women in 2023 must sit in the back of the bus. 

9. Government-sanctioned medical discrimination. Religious Zionism’s Orit Strook proposed that religious doctors not be required to provide service to people whose positions they disagree with – LGBTQ+ patients are Strook’s main target – as long as another doctor is willing to provide the same treatment. The backlash came fast and furious. But Smotrich set the racism bar even lower, declaring in 2016 that Jewish and Arab mothers shouldn’t share a hospital maternity room.

10. Terrifying new taxes. Since the ultra-religious came to control the government, massive amounts of subsidies have been earmarked to enable full-time yeshiva and Kollel students to continue to avoid work and the army. With the proposed budget containing an estimated NIS 32 billion in new expenditures, and with high-tech companies moving their staff to Portugal and Portland, where will the tax revenue come from to keep the country going? The haredim? Nope, it will come largely from secular and pluralistic tax-paying citizens…as always.

If my marginal tax bracket were to jump from, say, 45% to 70%, in order to support sycophants who refuse to work, I might not be able to justify living here anymore. 

I hope that none of these redlines are passed and we can continue to take pride in this amazing country. 

I pray this list will soon be irrelevant. 

I fear that we may already be too late.

I first shared my redlines at The Jerusalem Post.

Picture from Lubo Minar on Unsplash

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