A Collection of the Week's News from Israel

A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee
of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation

3 Adar 5759    February 19, 1999    Issue number 205

NEWS

Prayer Rally Largest Rally in the History of the State

Media estimates of the attendance at the prayer vigil/rally Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem put the total number at approximately 350,000. Estimates of the attendance actually vary widely, and range between 250,000 and close to half a million people. Religious Jews of all streams heeded the calls of their spiritual leaders and arrived in buses from all over the country. The participants totally filled the area from the Jerusalem Convention Center (Binyanei HaUmah) to the old central bus station, as well as for many blocks around. The mass prayer service began at 3 PM with the afternoon Minchah service, and continued with the recitation of Psalms and penitential prayers, interspersed with the blowing of tens of shofars. It concluded at approximately 4:45 PM with the crowd crying as one, "The Lord is G-d" - seven times, as on Yom Kippur. Rabbi Menachem Porush then read aloud the resolutions of the rabbinical bodies sponsoring the event. As the crowd dispersed, many of the participants broke out into spontaneous dancing, singing, "May this hour be one of mercy and one of Heavenly favor." Posters at the mass gathering read, "The Torah of Israel is not adjudicatable" - a reference to Chief Justice Barak's 'activist' approach, according to which, as he said, "everything is subject to adjudication."

Other banners read, "The Supreme Court is tearing the nation apart," and "This Torah will never be replaced." A separate section for women and girls was cordoned off, so that there would not be a mingling of the sexes. Guards were stationed in the hareidi neighborhoods of Jerusalem, which had all but emptied out, to protect against looters and thieves. Similar prayer vigils were held at the same time in New York, London, Antwerp, and Paris. Representatives of the media from all over the world were on hand to cover the event. Some 1,300 policemen were stationed in the area, including roof-top snipers who were on the lookout for terrorist activity. Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, speaking from the mass prayer service to an Arutz-7 correspondent, said, "They say there are almost half a million people here. How can one not take part in an event involving almost ten percent of Israel's Jewish population?" Media commentators noted the unprecedented discipline and orderliness of such a large crowd, as well as the significant and unusual measure of cooperation among the various religious camps in organizing the event. (Arutz 7 Feb 14)

Chaim Walder writes in the hareidi paper Yated Ne'eman that the sensation there was one of positive pride and satisfaction, and that the rally was a "show of strength against those who would destroy us." The religious-Zionist daily Hatzofeh highlighted the fact that at the conclusion of the rallies in Jerusalem yesterday, "thousands of people" from both the religious rally and the left-wing counter-demonstration a few hundred meters away gathered in groups and held discussions on the issues of democracy and religious rights. Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi says today that he does not regret having taking part in yesterday's counter-demonstration run by left-wing groups, despite the jeers with which he was greeted there. He told Arutz-7 today that neither does he regret the harsh things he said there about yesterday's prayer vigil. "I objected to the blanket delegitimization of the Supreme Court as an institution," Hanegbi said. "I admire the tenacity of the hareidi community and its determination to preserve Jewish practice. At the same time, I don't think that changes of societal norms and behaviors will come through compulsion." Though he stressed that separation of religion and state in Israel is impractical, he said that religious practice should be left up to the individual: "Many Israelis fulfill a good portion of the 613 [Torah] commandments, and not because the state forces them to... We cannot have giant demonstrations against the Supreme Court simply because people object to their rulings. Many rulings anger many sectors of the population, but it is not acceptable to attack the Court as an institution because of this." Arutz-7 News Editor Haggai Segal pointed out to Hanegbi that one of the issues that brought the masses to the rally yesterday was "Chief Justice Aharon Barak's statement that 'everything is adjudicatable' [including the definition of the fundamental of Jewish identity]." Hanegbi responded, "The Chief Justice has said on numerous occasions that he does not feel that way." Segal retorted: "I myself have heard him say as much with my own two ears!" Hanegbi: "Barak feels only that everything comes under the purview of the law, not that everything is adjudicatable. The justice system has an interest in everything that goes on in society, since all issues [directly or indirectly] involve rights. This doesn't mean, though, that the court will adjudicate all cases. Many people have misunderstood him." The Justice Minister said that what appears to be the Supreme Court's more "activist" approach reflects the failure of Israeli legislators, who have failed to legislate some of the delicate religious issues of the day.

Rabbi Elimelech Tirnoyer, one of the main organizers and the announcer at the rally, summed up the event for Arutz-7 Monday: "The participants filled the streets from the Machaneh Yehuda market to the television studios, and from the Sakharov Gardens [at the entrance to the city]... This was great, an awesome spectacle! I can only describe it as a preparation for the coming of the Messiah into the gates of Jerusalem. When I was visiting a prominent rabbi in Jerusalem yesterday after the gathering, there were people there seriously debating when a Jewish assembly of this magnitude had last taken place - during the days of the Second Temple, or at the stand at Mount Sinai?... The sense of unity that filled the air was amazing! Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews singing together the same traditional prayers to the same tunes! The prayers that were heard... Forget the Supreme Court issue! Just the unity and prayers alone were enough!... I heard that Chief Rabbi Lau cried [on television], but I can tell you that he was not the only one: women, children, and elderly people were literally weeping, their prayer sheets soaked with liters of tears. And at the conclusion, the mass recitation of "The Lord is G-d" and "Shma Yisrael" was simply an unforgettable spectacle. Men with knitted yarmulkes danced with others who bore sombreros, who in turn joined hands with Gerer Hasidim... Not one negative word was uttered against any Jew, not even against politicians or government institutions... No one was hurt and there was no violence. For this I want to thank from the depths of my heart the wise Chief of Jerusalem Police, Mr. Yitzchaki, who agreed to our request not to bring policemen with clubs or horses... It was really a sanctification of G-d's name! Wonderful, sweeter than honey..." (Arutz 7 Feb 15)

Netanyahu Encourages Dialogue

The feverish efforts of President Weizman and, chiefly, Prime Minister Netanyahu to have the demonstration postponed did not bear fruit. "First we'll pray, then we'll talk," said Rabbi Menachem Porush. Netanyahu met last Friday with leading judicial-system representatives and religious and hareidi public leaders, in an attempt to establish a national forum for discussing religion-and-state issues. Prime Minister Netanyahu said Sunday: "I condemn in the strongest terms any attacks upon the Supreme Court, and I defend it totally and completely. This does not mean that it is unacceptable to criticize... I have been working over the past few days to bring about an understanding between the sides - not with complete success, I admit - and I will continue to do so... For the Jewish people, nationality and religion are intertwined, and it is impossible to define the Jewish people by completely separating its national identity from its religious identity."

Other quotes: Minister Limor Livnat said on Friday, " [Labor MK] Yael Dayan and I demonstrated outside the Supreme Court several years ago in protest of the light sentences handed down to rapists. In a democratic society, everyone has a right to express criticism, to demonstrate and to protest against any institution, even the Supreme Court." Chief Justice Aharon Barak, explaining why he has refused to meet with hareidi leaders: "Judges are supposed to speak only in the courtroom. If the Court will conduct negotiations regarding items and issues on its agenda, its objectivity will be harmed." Former Supreme Court justice Tzvi Tal: "There is room for the Supreme Court to make an 'accounting' regarding its sensitivity to Jewish tradition and that which is holy to it." Author A.B. Yehoshua called upon the religious public "who cannot adapt to the national reality in Israel" to return to the Diaspora. Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak: "I am not afraid of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, and I have met with him and told him clearly what I felt on this matter... We must cease surrendering to extremist hareidi elements, and the way to do this is by replacing the government at the ballot box." (Arutz 7 Feb 14)

Counter-Rally Held

Leftist organizations held a counter-demonstration several hundred meters away from the prayer vigil, in Sacher Park. It was reported that forty to fifty thousand people were in attendance, including politicians who have expressed support of the separation of religion and state, such as MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz), Agriculture Minister Raphael Eitan (Tzomet), Jewish Agency head Avraham Burg (Labor), and Roni Milo (a founder of the new centrist party). Gesher MK David Levy was also on hand. Posters there read, "Protecting Democracy," "A Fight to the Death for Democracy," and the like. (Arutz 7 Feb 14)

Terrorist: "I Thought She Was Jewish"

Palestinian Arab terrorist Muhmad Sh'alan murdered an Arab woman last Thursday morning in the heart of Morasha (Musrara), a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem adjacent to the Russian Compound. "I thought she was Jewish," Sh'alan told police investigators after turning himself in, upon learning of his mistake. The victim, 47-year-old N'ila Kareen, was walking in the streets of Morasha when Sh'alan assaulted her and stabbed her in the chest. A Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge today extended Sh'alan's custody by the maximum 15 days until charges are filed. (Arutz 7 Feb 12)

Druze Likud Candidate Supports Land of Israel

Arutz-7 spoke today with Ayob Kara, the Druze candidate who captured the 18th spot on the Likud Knesset list in this week's internal elections. "Though I was the Druze representative, I don't see myself as just that," he said. "I am a 'Likudnik,' devoted to the Land of Israel, and the People of Israel, and I feel that the real place for the Israeli Druze population is in the Likud." Kara stated that he is an avowed supporter of the Yesha settlement enterprise and a close friend of Kiryat Arba Mayor Tzvi Katzover. This past Monday, the soon-to-be MK was one of several Likud candidates who signed a document pledging to vote against any Knesset motion to forfeit parts of the Land of Israel to the Palestinians. "Only through strengthening the Yesha residents can we ensure calm in the area," said Kara. "Any weakening of their position will bring disaster to both sides. As someone whose family has made many sacrifices in the wars over the years, I want a peace that will last, not one that will bring a catastrophe upon us, and that calls for real reciprocity." (Arutz 7 Feb 12)

Three Kurds Killed in Attempted Israeli Consulate Take-over

Two or three Kurdish immigrants in Germany were killed this afternoon during an attempted take-over of the Israeli consulate in Berlin. Israeli security guards apparently opened fire upon the marauders. The Kurds took one Israeli hostage for a brief period. Three Israeli diplomats were in the building at the time. Kurds around the world are protesting the arrest of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan by Turkey, and specifically the reports that Israel aided Turkey with information leading to the capture. Israel has denied any involvement in the affair. (Arutz 7 Feb 17)

Barak Orders Re-trial for Convicted Murderers

Chief Justice Aaron Barak has ordered a retrial for the five Arab men sentenced by the Haifa District Court to life imprisonment for abducting, murdering, and sexually assaulting 14-year-old Danny Katz in December 1983. At the time, the prisoners confessed their guilt to police interrogators, but later testified that their confessions were forced. According to Israel's Channel 2 news, Justice Barak came to his decision after much uncertainty and in the face of staunch opposition from Attorney-General Elyakim Rubenstein, State Attorney Edna Arbel, and the police department. An assistant to Barak said that Barak utilized, for the first time, a new judicial principle - legislated into the law less than three years ago - by which a retrial may be ordered without new evidence, but merely because of an accumulation of several doubts leading to the conclusion that justice may not have been served. (Arutz 7 Feb 17)

IDF Asks PA to Raze Two Illegal Buildings

The IDF confirms that their complaint against two tall buildings built by the Palestinians only ten meters away from the Morag intersection in Gush Katif (Gaza) - presenting a danger to the Jewish drivers there - is valid. The army has no plans to destroy the buildings, but have asked the PA to do so. (Arutz 7 Feb 17)

Positive Visit For Arens in Hevron

Defense Minister Moshe Arens visited Hevron Tuesday, together with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Sha'ul Mofaz and other top officers. Arens said that he is concerned about the state of security in the city, and emphasized the importance of the defense measures that the IDF is attempting to offer the Jewish residents. He expressed the hope that Hevron's Jewish community would continue to thrive and develop. The group first visited the old Ashkenazai cemetery, recently vandalized by Arabs, and then stopped off in Admot Yeshai (Tel Rumeida), where they viewed preparations for archeological excavations and new construction in the area. Following the meeting, the minister spoke at a short press conference where he said, "I hope that one day Hevron will be an example of how Jews and Arabs can live together. However, at present, we must do all possible to provide full security for Hevron's Jewish population." (Arutz 7 Feb 17)

Arutz-7 Law to Be Debated Next Week

The Arutz-7 trial began Wednesday in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court. Ten station managers, directors, and broadcasters are accused of broadcasting without a license. Press coverage was heavy. The next session will be held in three weeks. The Knesset will debate next Tuesday what may be a final, successful attempt to find the legal route by which to grant a license to Arutz-7. Arutz-7 Executive Director Yaakov Katz (Katzele) said that the State Prosecution operated under a double standard, as it never indicted Abie Nathan for broadcasting from the sea, "but a week after he sank his ship, all the troubles for Arutz-7 started."(Arutz 7 Feb 17)

Ben-Ami, Beilin, Vilna'i Capture Top Labor Spots

The results of Monday's Labor primaries have been released. The top 12 will apparently be as follows: 1.Ehud Barak, 2.Shimon Peres, 3.Shlomo Ben-Ami, 4.Yossi Beilin, 5.Matan Vilna'i, 6.Avraham Burg, 7.Ra'anan Cohen, 8.Uzi Baram, 9.Dalia Itzik, 10.Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, 11.Chaim Ramon ,12.Eli Goldschmidt. Labor MK Ephraim Sneh, who placed 12th in yesterday's balloting (#16 on the final list), was not pleased with the results. "The high placing of Beilin, Burg, Baram, and Ramon proves that Labor is going heavily towards the left* The 'security-minded' positions now have less support in Labor." Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "This is the most leftward-leaning list that Labor has ever fielded." MK Yossi Beilin said with satisfaction, "The heart of Labor beats on the left." Ma'ariv political commentator Shalom Yerushalmi discussed with Arutz-7 the results of the Labor primaries. He is doubtful that the "waning Labor party - whose national branches are relatively inactive - will be rejuvenated by the list that was chosen." When asked the reason for the low morale, Yerushalmi explained, "Ehud Barak is convinced that Labor cannot win in its current format. With his 'One Israel' movement [to include David Levy's Gesher party and members of the Meimad party], Barak wants to blur certain previously-clear lines, by building something different in its place. When Labor activists began to see the old party disintegrating, they became less enthusiastic." Yerushalmi said that these developments were foreshadowed by the recent municipal elections, during which Labor's Jerusalem branch collapsed when local party leader Chaim Cohen joined Likud Mayor Ehud Olmert's list. He added that a similar breakdown is happening in the municipality of Petach Tikvah. (Arutz 7 Feb 16)

MK Adisu Messala turned what was supposed to be a Labor-party celebration Tuesday night into a fiasco. He caused an uproar when he publicly blamed "political interests" in the party for his loss in this week's primaries to Russian immigrant Sopha Landver. For most of Tuesday, he was leading the race for the immigrants' seat, but suddenly the final results showed that Landver had won. "It's very interesting that none of the other results were changed - only Adisu Messala's," he yelled into the microphone at the nationally televised event. "I was sacrificed, in a racist act, for the sake of Sopha Landver!" He scornfully referred to past apologies by party leaders to the Sephardic sector, and said, "I don't want to have to wait 20 years for them to apologize to the Ethiopian community." Party members fault leader Ehud Barak for allowing him to speak. A re-count of the votes began Wednesday afternoon, although Messala did not send a representative to monitor the procedure. Messala told Arutz-7 that though he is not looking to leave the party, "Labor is an elitist, haughty party, that has learned nothing... I now understand the political resentments of this society, why people from a development town in the north who are unemployed for two years under the Likud government refuse to vote for Labor. The party must take stock of its situation. It is cold and estranged from the public... I will not forgive the Labor party!... This is a ringing slap in the face to the Ethiopian community. Despite my victory in the primaries three years ago, I am now being told by the party, 'We're sorry, but you were here by mistake. Get out!'" Labor MK Uzi Baram - number eight on the Labor party list - says that he understands Messala, but that, "He wouldn't have made these same charges had he been elected. It can't be that the party turns racist overnight because he wasn't chosen... It's also important to note that Messala barely brought in one Ethiopian vote to the party, and no one ever reminded him of that." Baram admitted that party leader Ehud Barak had come out very strongly in favor of Sopha Landver, thus intensifying Messala's feeling that the party was against him. "I advise Barak to talk to him very soon, as a damage-control measure. As far as reserving a place for Messala on the party list, I don't know, nor is this the right time to decide." (Arutz 7 Feb 17)

Soldier Killed in Accident

An IDF soldier on reserves duty was killed in a training accident in the Negev desert Monday. The soldier, Sgt. Rotem Agbar, 27, of Gan Yavneh, died when the armored personnel carrier in which he was riding overturned.

Sgt. Agbar's funeral was held this afternoon at 3:30 PM in the Gan Yavneh cemetery. (Arutz 7 Feb 16)

Worshippers Help Out

Bags full of ten-agorot coins (worth 2.5 cents each) totaling 30,000 shekels were brought to the offices of the Jerusalem Religious Council Tuesday. The money was collected during the prayer-rally on Sunday, to pay the fine levied by the Supreme Court on Council head Rabbi Yitzchak Ralbag. He was fined for not adhering to the orders to convene the Religious Council with the participation of Reform members. (Arutz 7 Feb 16)

Low Election Fares

El Al, Israel's national airline, has announced plans to fly thousands of Israelis home for the May 17 election. The "Fly and Vote" plan allows Israelis who are eligible to vote to pay a special low fare from May 11 to May 17. From New York, the fare will be $599, while Israelis flying from Europe will pay up to $300. Other private initiatives have been announced to bring Israeli voters home for even cheaper fares. (Arutz 7 Feb 15)

Kineret Down

The level of the Sea of Galilee, Israel's main reservoir, rose Sunday by three centimeters, but this is merely a "drop in the bucket." Some 220 million cubic meters of water are expected to be lacking by the end of the winter, compared to an average year. Much of the shortage will be able to be replaced from other sources, but farmers will receive smaller allocations of water than usual. (Arutz 7 Feb 15)

No Cracks in Micronesian Support

The President of Micronesia is considering firing his country's ambassador to the United Nations. The ambassador apparently disobeyed standing instructions when he walked out on an anti-Israel vote in the UN last night, instead of voting against it. The President told Israeli reporters today that his country's long-standing policy of friendship with Israel has not changed, and that Micronesia is still an ally of Israel. 115 nations (including Canada) voted in favor of condemning Israel last night regarding "civil rights violations in the territories." Five countries abstained, and two - Israel and the US - voted against. (Arutz 7 Feb 12)


Commentary

Sunday's Mass Prayer Gathering By Jonathan Rosenblum,

The Sunday, February 14 prayer gathering of a broad cross-section of Orthodox Jews -- media estimates of the crowd ranged between 250,000 to 500,000 participants -- and was described by the Israeli media as the largest such gathering in the Israel's history. The widespread predictions of possible violence and bloodshed proved to be utterly baseless. The gathering, which lasted more than two hours, passed without incident, and when it was over the huge crowd dispersed quietly.

The prayer vigil was called against a backdrop of escalating hostility to religious observance in Israel and the usurpation of representative government by the judicial branch, in particular the Israeli Supreme Court.

In the opinion of many commentators, there is no more powerful supreme court in the world than the Israeli Supreme Court. No other supreme court has assumed such responsibility for resolving all the problems of society, says Hebrew University's Ruth Gavison, one of the directors of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. There is no area, in the words of another leading commentator, ``too political, too contentious, or too trivial to escape [the Supreme Court's] vigilant eye.'' In recent years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly entered areas in which there are no traditional legal materials to guide it: neither statute or judicial precedent.

The Barak Court's judicial activism has thrust the Supreme Court into the center of many of the value conflicts that divide Israeli society, a role for which it is completely unsuited. The Supreme Court is totally unrepresentative of Israeli society. In a country in which over 50% of the population is of Middle Eastern origin, there is not one justice of Middle Eastern descent. In a country, in which 20-25% of the population is religiously observant, only one permanent member of the 15-member Court is religious. (Justice Barak and his colleagues largely control the selection of their successors, with little input from the Knesset and the executive branches.)

Not only is the Supreme Court highly unrepresentative, but it has followed an explicitly elitist vision in its value choices. In Justice Barak's words, a judge should be guided in those cases involving broad value choices by the values of ``the enlightened society in whose midst he dwells.'' ``The values of the enlightened society,'' he has made clear, does not mean a social consensus, but only those values which are, in his words, universal -- i.e., neither Jewish nor non-Jewish -- progressive, and worthy of enlightened nations.

In no area involving conflicting societal values has the Court's unrepresentative nature and its elitist vision been so keenly felt as that of religion and state. The Barak Court has consistently failed to acknowledge that the affirmation of Israel as a ``Jewish state,'' in both the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Laws is not meaningless verbiage. Rather Justice Barak has simply defined ``Jewish'' as synonymous with ``democratic,'' which he then defines in terms of rights, both enumerated and unenumerated.

Justice Barak's vision, while consistent with that of a very small minority of Israeli society, which would define Israel as merely a ``state of its citizens,'' is far from that of Ben-Gurion and the other signatories to the Declaration of Independence, as well as the majority of citizens today.

Israel's founders viewed the creation of the State as the fulfillment of a 2,000-year-old dream. And they recognized that Jewish identity would be the glue holding society together. To preserve a single Jewish identity, for instance, they placed all issues of personal status under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate.

By refusing to treat the term ``Jewish'' as an independent source of values, the Supreme Court has left itself vulnerable to the charge, voiced most recently by former Justice Tzvi Tal that it ``has completely cut itself off from the tradition of the Jewish people.'' Under Justice Barak, every aspect of the fifty year status quo arrangement on matters of religion and state has been eroded, with a resulting loss of identifiable Jewish character to the State. Laws against commercial activity on the Sabbath have been undermined, the jurisdiction of the religious courts restricted, the importation of non-kosher meat permitted, and the Chief Rabbinate's authority over conversions dramatically reduced.

The Supreme Court has ordered hearings on a suit to bar ritual circumcision in Israel. Over the ages, tens of thousands of Jews have died rather than give up circumcision, the first commandment given to the Jewish people. Yet for the Israeli Supreme Court it is not unthinkable that the first self-proclaimed ``Jewish state'' in nearly two millenia might outlaw ritual circumcision. Nor has the Court acknowledged that it has no authority to prevent parents from circumcising their children.

Here are a few other examples of the Court's appropriation of broad policymaking functions from the Knesset and the executive branch and of its creation of new rights out of whole cloth:

As part of an escalating campaign of delegitimization of religious Jews and religious observance, major parties have based both local and national campaigns around the slogan ``Stop the Chareidim'' or ``Stop the Blacks.''

In response to the opening of a national religious kindergarten in Kfar Saba, signs appeared advocating ``exterminating the chareidim at birth.'' Yet no protest was heard. Ssimilarly Justice Barak himself did not protest when a Beersheba magistrate likened religious Jews to ``huge lice'' in his presence. Indeed Barak praised the speech, and only three weeks later, after complaints from religious leaders, was the magistrate reprimanded.

A leading journalist savors the idea of tying the beards of all the ``weird chareidi rabbis together and setting them on fire'' and another -- a former Knesset member -- declares his greatest national service would be to go into Mea Shearim with a submachine gun to ``mow them all down,'' and again there is no outcry.

In Tzoron a new religious school opened last September, with twenty first-graders. For more than a month, these little children had to run had to run a daily gauntlet of forty to sixty demonstrators, some accompanied by attack dogs, to enter the school. The school building was regularly pelted with stones, with the children inside, and defaced. These demonstrations were encouraged by Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, who came to Tzoron to urge the local population to resist the scourge of religion. (Am Echad Feb 15)


When Silence Isn't Golden By: Aaron Lerner

In January 1998, a small group of ultra-secularists petitioned their country's High Court of Justice to outlaw ritual circumcision on the grounds that it is criminal assault. The court decided in February to consider the case and on September 3 held its first hearing.

What country's Supreme Court would even consider entertaining such a petition today? Russia? No. The US? Of course not. "It is inconceivable that the only country in the world to prohibit circumcisions should be Israel." So argued attorney Yehuda Shefer of the State Attorney's Office. But the High Court ignored Shefer's call to reject the petition out of hand. The next hearing is expected in April. I'm not making this up. I wish I were. But case No. 5780/98 is a real case. Unfortunately, Meimad leader Rabbi Yehuda Amital was mistaken when he wrote over the weekend that the High Court only rules on secular issues.

Does that mean that the Supreme Court should be closed down? No. Just that there are legitimate grounds for criticizing it. The handling of 5780/98 should lead to serious soul-searching by the leadership of the High Court. For, by even entertaining the petition, the court set a precedent that antisemitic regimes in the Diaspora may exploit in the future.

So here I am, on the pages of The Jerusalem Post, attacking the Supreme Court over 5780/98. Does that make me anti-democratic? Obviously not.

I don't, frankly, buy into the position that the Israeli authorities should differentiate between a Reform conversion in Miami and Metullah, or that religious councils should bar Reform or Conservative members - but I respect the right of those who hold those views to express them.

The counter-demonstrators in Sacher Park this Sunday were not "defending democracy." They were simply exercising their democratic right to defend the Supreme Court (or rather, the most recent decisions made by the court relating to religion-state issues) while their haredi brothers exercised their democratic right to criticize those very same decisions.

Both sides did it with fervor, using the strongest of language, with Jewish Agency Chairman Avraham Burg terming the dispute a "war of life and death" and posters comparing Rabbi Ovadia Yosef with the ayatollahs of Iran.

But typically, while there were immediate calls for the criminal investigation of Yosef's strong words, no one saw fit to call for a similar investigation of Burg and Meretz MK Yossi Sarid's open call to "war" against the haredim.

While I am not happy with the strong language used by either side's leadership, I see no place for silencing it. Such displays of bad taste and vulgarity should not be police matters. I daresay that the free-wheeling peaceful dialogue that took place between the two groups after the rallies indicates that the rank and file of both groups seeks something quite different than "war."

When members of the body politic feel free to express their views - whatever they happen to be - in peaceful public forums, it is not a day for supporters of democracy to shudder, but rather to celebrate. The Sunday rallies were, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu justly termed them, a "day of honor for Israeli democracy."

And it would have been an even greater day for democracy if the leadership of the Israeli Left could have freed themselves from their Eastern European understanding of democracy as a "dictatorship of the majority" (when their majority wins, of course).

In a Western-style democracy, the public continues to speak its mind even after the ballots have been counted or the justices have ruled. The very process of this expression is not a threat to democracy, but rather an integral part of the democratic process.

This clash of Eastern European and Western views of democracy came to a head in Israel during the Rabin and Peres administrations, when great efforts were made to stifle opposition protests by imposing the Eastern European model of democracy. "You lost the elections - shut up and go home," was a frequent epithet thrown at Oslo protesters. Leftist political leaders and academics alike spoke with glee of their efforts to permanently change the face of Israel on the strength of the sheerest of majorities.

The Eastern European model may be easier in the short run, but it cannot endure the pressures of change that Israel faces. Whoever wins this May, significant elements in Israeli society will find themselves dissatisfied with the results. It is vital for the preservation of this diverse society that both the losers and winners in the coming elections are afforded free and open access to all avenues of expression. (Jerusalem Post Feb17)

It's for All of Us By Evelyn Gordon

Until the general public wakes up to the dangers posed by judicial activism, the haredim will continue to fight this battle alone.

The long-standing haredi war against the Supreme Court, particularly in its capacity as the High Court of Justice, took two unfortunate turns last week.

The first was that, for the first time, some haredi leaders crossed the boundaries of legitimate speech. Since for years, even the mildest haredi statements against the court have been greeted with screams of "incitement!" from the liberal establishment, it is perhaps hard to blame the haredim for concluding that restraint doesn't pay.

Nevertheless, against the background of the biblical injunction to slay every Amalekite, man, woman and child, calling Supreme Court President Aharon Barak "the enemy of the Jews" using the Hebrew phrase that refers to Haman the Amalekite in the Book of Esther - is going beyond the pale.

The second unfortunate turn was that for the first time, the haredim cast their battle against the court as an exclusively religious issue. In the past, the haredim have correctly pointed out that the court's judicial activism has wide-ranging implications for democracy, which go far beyond its impact on church-state issues. Last week, however, haredi leaders dropped all mention of this problem, choosing to focus solely on what they consider the court's anti-Orthodox bent. Again, this is perhaps an unsurprising response to the fact that even those who share their concern about the court's growing power have chosen to abandon the battle, rather than fight on the same side with the haredim.

Nevertheless, both of these developments are unfortunate, because they damage the battle the haredim have, for the past few years, been fighting on behalf of all of us. What the haredim appear to have forgotten is that whether or not Aharon Barak "hates religion," as they claim, is of secondary importance. The Supreme Court could be occupied by the worst antisemites since Hitler with little impact on its rulings, were it not for the dangerous judicial philosophy it - and Barak first and foremost - has adopted. The belief that the court has the right and duty to determine whether government actions are not merely legal but reasonable, coupled with the belief that it has the right to weigh government actions against a self-declared "constitution" comprised of Basic Laws adopted by a mere quarter of the Knesset - these are the real roots of the evil. Because it is only these beliefs that enable the justices to ascribe the force of law to their opinions on any issue - religious and non-religious alike.

Take, for instance, one recent ruling that had the religious up in arms: the decision that the present system of draft deferments for yeshiva students was illegal. The court did not cite any law contradicted by these deferments. On the contrary: the law explicitly authorizes the defense minister to issue such deferments. What made the system illegal, the court said, was that it considered the minister's use of his authority to be unreasonable. Many Israelis might agree with the court on this particular issue. However, that does not change the fact that it is not the court's job to decide whether government decisions are reasonable. That is the job of the electorate. The court's job is only to decide whether a given decision violates the law - and had it stuck to this job, the haredim would have nothing to complain about.

On one level, the haredi complaints about the court's "anti-religious" character are understandable. It is true that a sizable number of the court's most egregious substitutions of the justices' opinion for law have been on church-state issues. However, this is not because the court has been exercising restraint in other areas. It has thrust its opinions into every walk of public life - from deciding it was unreasonable to award the Israel Prize to journalist Shmuel Shnitzer, to deciding it was unreasonable for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire his civil service commissioner.

What distinguishes these decisions from those on religious issues is not the reasoning behind them, but merely the fact that, for the most part, they affected far fewer people - and therefore did not cause an outcry. So far, to their credit, the haredim have fought their battle strictly through democratic means - including Sunday's demonstration. Nothing could be more absurd than the oft-heard charge in recent days that it is undemocratic to demonstrate against the Supreme Court. In the US, there have been countless demonstrations against Supreme Court decisions on issues such as abortion, yet that country seems to have survived as a democracy. Indeed, peaceful demonstrations are one of the quintessential methods by which the people try to make their voices heard in a democratic regime.

Yet until the general public wakes up to the dangers posed by judicial activism, the haredim will continue to fight this battle alone. And it is therefore to be hoped that they return to their previous focus: that the court's behavior is a danger not merely to the haredi lifestyle, but to democracy. Because, whether they want the job or not, the haredim are fighting on behalf of all of us - for the right to let our elected representatives, rather than an unelected court, make the decisions that govern our lives. (Jerusalem Post Feb 16)


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