US blasts Israel on religious freedom

By Paul Berger, November 25, 2010
The American report says the Israeli Orthodox are favoured unfairly

The American report says the Israeli Orthodox are favoured unfairly

The State of Israel discriminates against non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews, according to a US State Department report.

The critical assessment is included in the department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, released last week.

Among the many criticisms, the report found that Israeli state funding favours the Orthodox and that the government puts greater resources into Jewish holy places than other religious sites.

Eight countries - Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan - gave the US most cause for concern.

However, Israel was among a list of 29 countries "where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy". Other such countries included Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Pakistan and Venezuela.

The report analysed religious freedom around the world between July 2009 and June 2010.

In Israel, it found that although religious freedoms are generally respected "governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued".

The report noted that the state does not recognise non-Orthodox conversions in Israel and that the Orthodox rabbinate determines who is buried in Jewish state cemeteries.

It also cited a 2010 report by the Bank of Israel and the Social Security Institution, which warned that because of "widely divergent birth rates" Israel is undergoing "a generational demographic shift" from a secular to a more religious society.

"This demographic shift was a source of growing tension in 2010 between secular and strictly-Orthodox communities," the State Department report noted, "including an allocation of housing, debates over future preparedness of the army, and the increasing burden of transfer payments made to strictly-Orthodox families, who are entitled to receive special government subsidies for families with five or more children".

The report also highlighted abuse and discrimination against Israeli-Arab Muslims, evangelical Christians, and Messianic Jews.

It focused particular attention on Yad L'Achim, a strictly-Orthodox, anti-missionary organisation. Yad L'Achim harassed individuals in settlements that it often incorrectly identified as "missionaries", the report stated.

It also cited a number of cases of violence involving Yad L'Achim members. They included the firebombing of a Messianic Jewish leader's car and the arrest of a Yad L'Achim follower for leaving explosives on the doorstep of a Messianic leader's home.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas were also criticised in the report.

It noted that terrorist attacks against Israel were partly religiously motivated. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, a conservative interpretation of Islam led to women being convicted of "ethical crimes" such as "illegitimate pregnancy" and to couples being routinely stopped to ascertain whether they were married.

Antisemitism was a cause for concern in a number of countries, including Iran and Venezuela.

A spike in antisemitic incidents in the UK in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid was also noted.

Citing CST figures, the State Department reported that there were 609 antisemitic incidents in the UK during the first half of 2009 compared to 296 incidents in the last half of the year.

Last updated: 2:01pm, November 25 2010