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NewsIsrael will never be a democracy until religion, state separated - opinion

Israel will never be a democracy until religion, state separated – opinion

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 A haredi mob stones two medical vehicles caught in their protest against government coronavirus restrictions, causing the driver of the first vehicle, an Arab Israeli medical worker, to lose control and crash into the crowd, killing a pedestrian. Fearing his life would be taken by a lynch mob, he tries to flee, but fortunately is saved by a cop before he could be torn to shreds by the mob. Welcome to Jerusalem, 2021, the second year of the plague.

Every time I read another horror story about a woman being denied her freedom to divorce, or another horror story about a religious new immigrant being denied immediate citizenship under the Law of Return for two years, or hundreds of thousands of new immigrants, or millions of veteran Israelis, who cannot get married in the Jewish state – I cringe in embarrassment, and shrug in resignation, and move on in apathy, like most Israelis.

The sad monthly appeals by the forever betrayed non-Orthodox Jews, such as the members of that congregation so despised and assaulted by the Jewish theocracy, Rodfei Hakotel. All of the heartfelt cries, the oys, after every civil rights atrocity, the endless moaning about the growing gap between Israel and the Diaspora, the numb acceptance of the absurdity of a fourth election and the assumedly inevitable result of yet another pseudo government whose tail still wags the dog: Who says repeating history again has to be so inevitable?

All the bitching about non-representative elective government by party members chosen in back rooms, all the wistful what-if discussions around family Shabbat tables – when we had them – about how democratic it would be to elect a Knesset member from southern Jerusalem or Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah quarter, to whom you could complain or hold accountable.

Who was it that said you can will something, then actually do it? One relatively recent prophet, who traditionally was unappreciated in his own city, was Israel’s foremost influence on rural development, Raanan Weitz. Known popularly as “Mr. Development,” Weitz rose to head the Jewish Agency’s Rural Settlement Department for 21 years after joining the Jewish Agency in 1937, working for four decades to establish communities while blooming the desert.

As might be expected, he was a member of the workers party. He also came back to Palestine in 1937 after earning a doctorate in his profession in Italy and devoted the next 47 years to building the country. As with most pioneers in the old days, he had an idea of what the new state’s system of government should be. By the time I interviewed him for the World Zionist Organization Press Service in 1975, he had crystallized his vision of a representative Israeli democracy.

It would have a legislature whose members are elected by the votes of their constituents in parliamentary districts. The prime minister would be elected by popular vote, the winner of which would pick his or her cabinet (no more coalitions!). He called the federalization plan “Jerusalem, DC” – for David’s Capital.

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We have a long way to go to achieve such a noble goal, but the journey has finally begun with one small and overdue High Court decision. This past week the seed of democracy was planted in the Knesset, but it cannot grow and blossom in a Jewish state that pretends to be the “only democracy in the Middle East,” when it is at best, or worst, the most liberal theocracy in a region where the basic human right of freedom of religion is commonly denied.

There are battles to be fought in the Knesset, and it will be a long campaign to pass a Basic Law implementing the promise of equality of the Declaration of Independence. This will become possible only when there is clear separation of religion and state. In a very short time, we will have another opportunity not to miss this opportunity. First we take Givat Ram, then we take Bnei Brak.

The writer is a former chief copy editor and editorial writer of The Jerusalem Post. His novel, The Flying Blue Meanies, is available on Amazon.

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