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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious intolerance in Israel

Part 3: Using torture. Religious
freedom. Choice in circumcision.

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Torture of Palestinian prisoners:

The State of Israel argued on 1998-MAY-18 before its Supreme Court that a security agency's use of "unorthodox" interrogation methods against Palestinian militants were a successful and needed tool in the State's fight against terrorism. Two Palestinians had claimed to have been tortured while in custody. They launched the original case against the state. On the same day, UN experts in Geneva ruled that Israel should cease violating the global agreement against torture of prisoners. 1 Although most dictatorships and some democracies in the world -- notably China -- engage in the torture of prisoners, and the U.S. did so under the George W. Bush presidency, Israel appears to be the only country that openly admitted to the practice in the late 1990s..

We do not wish to imply that the torturing of prisoners is directly related in any way to the religion of the captives. There are many factors which fuel  the conflicts among the various groups in the area: the Israeli government, small Jewish religious parties, various religious and secular groups, Jewish settlers, the PLO, Hamas, and various Muslim terrorist organizations. Religious belief, specifically the belief in God's intention for the occupied territories and the land of Israel, plays a major role in these conflicts.

Bill introduced to guarantee freedom of religion:

On 2000-DEC-13, MK (Member of the Knesset) Naomi Chazan introduced a new bill, the "Basic Law on Freedom of Religion and Conscience," to the Knesset (the Jewish parliament). It was approved by a vote of 37 to 34. Opposition came from the Ultra-Orthodox, Likud and One Nation parties.

The bill would make major steps towards the separation of religion and state and the recognition of multiple Jewish movements in the country as equals. The preamble to the bill cites two goals:

  1. Separating religion from the state in order to solidify Israel's basic values as a democratic country.
  2. Granting equal rights to the various streams of Israeli Judaism in order to ensure the pluralistic Jewish character of the state.

The bill itself states, in part:

"The freedom of religion, belief and conscience of every person is guaranteed. No person can be forced to belong to a religion, a religious community or a religious [group] of any kind. Freedom of religious practice and the preservation of individual or public religious beliefs are protected." 2

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee considered the bill on 2001-JUN-12. 3The bill died in committee. There was no vote taken, as there was a majority on the committee of orthodox, ultra-orthodox and Likud legislators who would have voted it down.

Another attempt was planned for 2004.

Choice in circumcision:

Brit milah (ritual circumcision of male Jewish newborns) is a central act of Jewish life. Circumcision information publicized in Israeli hospital maternity wards had traditionally been limited to those mohelim (rabbis skilled in circumcision) who had been authorized by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Rabbis who were non-orthodox and secular doctors were prohibited from advertising their services. The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) reported that:

" 'Milah Tovah,' an organization of licensed medical doctors who perform circumcisions, contacted IRAC because they had been denied the right to post notices of their services in hospital maternity wards. The hospitals refused to post any lists of mohelim other than those 'officially' published by the Health Ministry. The 'official' list includes only those mohelim who are certified by the government mohelim certification committee, which is appointed jointly by the Health Ministry, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Chief Rabbinate." The Supreme Court ruled in 2001-JUL that this situation "constitutes injury to the principle of equality, which is the central pillar of our political system."

They ordered that non-orthodox rabbis and secular doctors must have equal access to publicize their services. 4

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Israel Defends Use of Torture," Associated Press 1998-MAY-19.
  2. Gideon Alon, "Freedom of Religion Bill takes first step," Israel Religious Action Center, 2000-DEC-14, at: http://www.irac.org/article_e.asp?artid=380
  3. Gideon Alon, "Knesset to Debate bill on Freedom of Religion," Israel Religious Action Center, 2001-JUN-11, at: http://www.irac.org/article_e.asp?artid=428
  4. Yael Meyer, "Supreme Court strikes another blow for equality in Israel," Israel Religious Action Center, 2001-JUL-9, at: http://www.irac.org/article_e.asp?artid=453

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-12
Latest update: 2009-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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