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State Dept's Religious Report Under Attack

Critical reactions to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 International Religious Freedoms Report’s section on Israel continue to be expressed.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/4/2009, 2:09 PM / Last Update: 11/4/2009, 3:22 PM

Critical reactions to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 International Religious Freedoms Report’s section on Israel continue to be expressed. The official report, which accuses Israel of “governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism,” has itself been accused of being a “protracted denunciation against Israel’s Jewish character.

The National Council of Young Israel issued a condemnation of the report, stating, “The State of Israel was established by Jews as a Jewish State, and to criticize the fact that its religious practices and moral compass are inherently intertwined with Judaism is preposterous. As a Jewish state, utilizing the doctrines of the Torah and the canons of Jewish law as guiding principles of governance is certainly appropriate and should be beyond reproach."

NCYI President Shlomo Z. Mostofsky also called the report’s findings “hypocritical” in light of the United States’ long history of incorporating religious beliefs into its decision making process.

Horowitz Responds
In an earlier article on the report, Israel National News cited the anti-missionary JewishIsrael organization as stating: “The bitter irony is that it was Orthodox Jew Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute who, in the mid-1990’s, teamed up with evangelicals and spearheaded the Congressional International Religious Freedoms Act of 1998 which would result in the current State Department reports…”

Horowitz later told Israel National News that he had written to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – not directly connected to the State Department – to express his objections to the report.

He wrote that he hopes “that the Commission will take a more careful and balanced look at the matter than it appears in the State Department has done.”

“It's one thing to criminalize proselytizing,” Horowitz continued, “which Israel once tried to do and which I actively criticized and helped stop… That said, it's quite another thing for the United States to criticize Israel for refusing to secularize its public square, or for the State Department to criticize the passion felt by Orthodox Jews which causes them to take steps to preserve and protect what they rightly feel to be their vulnerable faith and traditions. By the theory of the State Department report -- at least as pictured in the attached article -- the U.S. would come in for equivalent condemnation were the Supreme Court to permit a measure of public school prayer.”

“Further and critically,” Horowitz wrote, “Israel is a robust democracy seeking and searching -- in the best democratic traditions -- to find the right balance on an issue at least as highly sensitive there as it is in America. I may not agree with all of the decisions being made by Israeli society on such issues as proselytization or giving Orthodox Judaism a preferred role within the community, but any thoughts I may have on the matter can only be properly expressed in my capacity as a private person. For anyone to express these thoughts in an official capacity -- on behalf of the people and government of the United States -- is stunningly wrong.”   

Horowitz concludes: “For the State Department to intrude in this ongoing debate -- one in which large numbers of anti-Orthodox and secular Israelis are free to speak out and to vote, as they do, and where the Israeli courts are and will be highly active -- is nothing short of outrageous.”