Israel National News, as did several other media, wrote a report last Thursday on the International Religious Freedom Report released last week, but had received the 2009 document by mistake. That document included the Jewish State in a list of 30 nations on its Executive Summary that singled out nations where “violations of religious freedom were noteworthy.”
However, the U.S. State Department’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report released last week actually toned down the unjustified criticism that for years was the norm in the document authored by American Foreign Service personnel.
The following is a corrected review of the report.
In the 2010 Executive Summary Israel was removed from the Executive Summary list where it did appear in 2009.
In fact, the list designation itself has been altered to reflect the "Obama engagement" approach. Part I of the Executive Summary now summarizes overall conditions “in some countries where violations, improvements, or positive developments of religious freedom have been noteworthy.”
Israel does not appear on this executive list which has been pared down to 27 countries. However, Egypt remains along with Afghanistan, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela and Vietnam, among others.
The list of eight Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) does not include Egypt, but it does include Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
The full-length document, which surveys the status of religious freedom in 198 countries including Israel and the Palestinian Authority (that is, PA-controlled areas of Judea, Samaria and Gaza), covers the period from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010.
It begins by describing Israel's Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, explaining that although Israel has no constitution, nevertheless the law of the land provides for freedom to worship according to one’s religion, “although governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued.” The quote does not take into account the halakhic (Jewish legal) issues which would make any change discriminatory against the Orthodox instead.
The sources for the report this year were many and varied, according to the document, and included “nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, religious groups and academics.”
Holy Sites and Ethnic Differences
There were a number of inaccuracies in the report. With regard to the issue of protection for holy sites throughout the country, the State Department continued to state that Israel extends more and better protection to Jewish holy sites than it does to those of other religions, which is untrue.
“The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law safeguards the holy sites of all religious groups within the country and in Jerusalem,” it notes correctly. “All holy sites enjoy certain protections under the penal law, which make it a criminal offense to damage any holy site, and historic sites are also protected by the antiquities law… ”
However, the report then adds, “the government provided significantly greater levels of government resources to Jewish holy places than to other religious sites.” Not mentioned was the fact that a number of those sites are holy to both Jews and Muslims, and funding is extended to upkeep that serves both. Moreover, there is no calculation for the amount of funds that must be expended to extend security for sites such as the Temple Mount, where round-the-clock safety must be ensured due to the need to guard against Arab terrorism prompted by inflammatory rhetoric hurled from the mosque during fiery sermons by imams on Fridays. The article also did not mention that Jews are discriminated against on the Temple Mount where they are not allowed to pray due to the Moslem Waqf's control of the site.
Some of the inaccuracies were due to the authors’ lack of understanding of the religious and cultural issues raised in the country.
One example of this was the controversy towards the end of the previous school year that took place in the Samaria city of Emanuel, where a hareidi girls’ school was being forced by the government to accept pupils who did not meet its religious standards. Because some of the aforementioned pupils were Sephardic, and the school administration was under the aegis of the Slonimer Chassidic group, which is Ashkenazi, many in the media – and the U.S. State Department as well, clearly – misunderstood the issue:
"Slonimer Hassidim (sic) of Ashkenazi origin ignored a Supreme Court decision requiring their schools to include Jewish pupils of Mizrahi (Sephardic) decent. (sic) The ultra-Orthodox community challenged the authority of Supreme Court decisions. The Slonimer Hassidim (sic) justified their refusal to include the pupils with the claim that they were ‘not religious enough.’
“Over 100,000 ultra-Orthodox protested peacefully in the streets of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv, against the court’s decision, which they saw as interference in religious issues and a mislabeling of the dispute as ethnic discrimination.”
In fact, many of the students who attended the school themselves were Sephardic, as were the parents who protested in the streets of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, and several of the teachers who went to jail. The issue was strictly one of the level of stringency of religious observance – but the State Department and those sources who informed its authors, entirely missed the point, either due to ignorance or by choice.
Preoccupation with Missionaries and ‘Messianics’
The also report devoted a significant amount of space to the fate of missionaries and so-called “Messianic Jews” – a misnomer for Jews who have become Christians -- and their difficulties with entering or staying in the country.
“The legal defense NGO, Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ), alleged again this reporting period that officials in the MOI (Ministry of Interior) denied services to some citizens based on their religious beliefs,” the report claimed.
“The JIJ’s legal defense caseload included numerous cases dealing with attempts by the MOI to revoke the citizenship of persons discovered holding Messianic or Christian beliefs, or to deny some national services – such as welfare benefits or passports – to such persons. In other cases the JIJ alleged that the MOI refused to process immigration applications from persons entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return if it was determined such persons held Christian or Messianic Jewish religious beliefs.
“In May 2009 the JIJ filed a contempt of court petition to the High Court on behalf of three Messianic Jews under the Law of Return whose applications for immigration were blocked by the MOI. They challenged the reluctance of the MOI to carry out an April 2009 High Court ruling, which stated that the government could not deny status to these three persons since they were eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return regardless of their identification as Messianic Jews, provided that they were not also considered Jewish under the Orthodox definition.
“The case continued at the end of the reporting period.”
The report goes on to discuss another case in which the wife was Christian and the husband was a “Messianic Jews,” where the family’s citizenship was revoked in 2008 by the MOI after they immigrated to the country in 1997. The Supreme Court overturned the MOI’s decision on July 30, 2009, according to the report.