Brooke Goldstein
Brooke GoldsteinCourtesy

Our country faces many threats, from terrorism, to corruption, to political polarization.

One less talked about threat, albeit an existential one, is the nefarious influence of foreign funding on Israeli democracy. Millions of dollars are being paid to Israeli NGO’s in an attempt to influence our society, culture and laws. Supported by foreign donors, these Israeli NGO’s operate public relations campaigns and file frivolous lawsuits to pursue undemocratic and harmful agendas, and to re-make Israel according to adverse foreign interests.

One of the most hostile foreign funds is the aptly named New Israel Fund. Headquartered in the United States and funding over 900 Israeli organizations the organization has spent over $300 million to advance its nefarious agenda. The NIF operates like a destructive colonialist project whose goal is to attack the Jewish character of the state, and to disenfranchise Israeli voters. NIF-funded organizations therefore work to divorce Israel from the Jewish people, and undermine the ability of the Israeli public to govern themselves.

The NIF is also major donor to the racist, illegal and discriminatory “boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement” against Jewish and Israeli persons and businesses. At the same time the NIF funds international legal campaigns to prosecute Israeli soldiers and officials for war crimes. Now, the religious rights and freedoms of Jewish soldiers in the IDF are being perniciously attacked in a legal campaign spearheaded by organizations financially supported by the New Israel Fund (NIF).

Recently two NIF-funded organizations filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court asking the court to force the introduction of chametz on IDF bases during Passover. The NIF-funded petitioners, the Secular Forum and Hiddush, seek to overturn the longstanding IDF prohibition on food that is not Kosher for Passover. Their petition comically invents a “human right” to eat leavened bread on IDF bases for seven days. It’s hard to see the real harm being inflicted when any IDF soldier can walk ten meters, exit the base and eat as much bread as he wishes. This mere fact alone seems to give away the lawsuit as a frivolous one. But the more serious intention behind the Petitioners’ legal action is to create a false conflict in order to exploit and politicize the Supreme Court, foster division within Israeli society and create legal precedents nullifying any type of legislation that shapes the Jewish character of our state.

It goes without saying that the IDF is the only Jewish army in the world, whose purpose is to protect the only Jewish state in the world. Laws guaranteeing that IDF bases will observe the laws of Kashrut were enacted in order for all Jewish soldiers to be able to serve together. Before the policy, religious and secular soldiers were segregated, but when an all-religious platoon of soldiers was massacred, the situation was rectified by legislation guaranteeing that the IDF army would be a unified, not divided one. An army for all Jews, not some Jews.

It is Kashrut that allows the military to be an all inclusive one, as kosher food can be eaten by both Jews and non-Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians. That is not the case with non kosher food, which can not be eaten by observant Jews. That the IDF accommodates Jewish practices is obviously a reflection of the Jewish character of the State. Recent polling shows that the majority of Israelis agree that IDF bases should abide by the laws of Kashrut, from which the prohibition against chametz on Passover derives. This was never an issue, until the NIF and the organizations it funds, filed their petition to the Supreme Court.

The Petitioners make up lies in order to give a false impression of urgency and seriousness to their case. They falsely allege that the IDF carries out specific searches for, and seizures of chametz. There is no such policy, nor any such searches. The allegation is made all the more ridiculous given that on a military base, soldiers are subject to search at any time, for any reason. The freedoms of soldiers on military bases are restricted in various ways due to the nature of military service. There is no “private domain” of a soldier while serving on a military base, as the Petitioners claim. And soldiers certainly don't have the right to pick and choose what food is served to them in military kitchens.

Religious soldiers can not live and eat in a place where there is chametz on Passover. Introducing chametz on IDF bases would infringe on the religious freedoms of countless observant soldiers and would also discourage them from being present on their bases during Passover, or joining the military at all. The NIF-funded groups behind the petition to the Supreme Court are not secularists who believe in coexistence. They seek secular coercion by forcing the violation of Jewish law unto observant soldiers. They essentially ask the court to bring back archaic notions of cultural segregation and religious discrimination, by creating a two-tiered system where religious and non-religious Jews are treated differently, eat separately, live separately and God-forbid fight separately.

In any case of two competing interests, a court must weigh the harm felt by one side against the other. Here it is clear that accommodating the fictitious right to leavened bread for a small minority of soldiers seven days a year, would cause disproportionate harm to the religious rights of a majority of soldiers. Introducing chametz would also cause an undue burden to the IDF. The military needs to function and feed its soldiers in an efficient manner, not spend valuable resources on creating two kitchens, two barracks, etc. Weighing the harm done to so-called secularists who refuse to leave the base to eat their bread, against the harm done to the vast majority of IDF soldiers and the destruction of the fabric of a unified military, the answer is a no-brainer.

But this case is not really about the “human right” to eat leavened bread on an IDF military base. The issue is just too minor on its face. The case is part of a larger campaign to appropriate the cultural identity of the Jewish state and its institutions, undermine the democratic process and sow false divisions while they’re at it. The Jewish army is a kosher army and anyone who wants to change that wishes to change the basic character of the State itself. Petitioners admit that they want the IDF to be like other armies, where Jews and non Jews serve together absent the laws of Kashrut.

Perhaps they would like to see Israel become a Hebrew-speaking Belgium where kosher slaughter is prohibited, or a Hebrew-speaking France, where kosher products are negatively labeled? Yet it is up to the Israeli public to decide issues pertaining to the Jewish character of the state, not the court. The question of whether IDF bases should be kosher or not, is a matter for the Knesset (Israel’s legislative body) to decide, and should have never been taken up by the court in the first place.

Moreover, there has to be some demonstrable harm to merit the time of the Supreme court. I don’t know anyone who has suffered any monetary or psychological damages after being denied leavened bread for seven days. Ruling on a fake conflict makes a mockery of the court and turns it into a politicized arm of foreign-funded organizations. Next thing you know we will be seeing lawsuits asking the Supreme Court to recognize the right to drink chocolate milk with your steak dinner.

To be Jewish in the Jewish state is a basic civil right. To serve in the Israeli Defence Forces without being forced to violate Jewish law is also a basic civil right. The Lawfare Project is therefore proud to support a grassroots effort spearheaded by a group of Israeli nonprofits who represent the rights of the vast majority of observant Jewish soldiers. These non profits run schools that prepare twenty thousand Israeli students a year for their service in the IDF, including both religious and secular, male and female soldiers.

These nonprofits have filed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing that the fictional rights of a small minority of soldiers, should under no circumstance be used to violate the religious rights and freedoms of observant Jewish soldiers, most of whom serve in the IDF’s fighter units.

No other democracy in the world allows for unfettered foreign funding, especially that which seeks to influence the democratic processes and undermine the character of the state. In the United States, for example, the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires anyone who receives foreign funding, especially that which is aimed at influencing public opinion or laws, to register as a foreign agent and comply with reporting requirements. Some countries all out prohibit the use of foreign funds to influence legal campaigns and domestic issues.

Here it seems that organizations are using foreign funds to create systems of cultural appropriation and religious discrimination within Israel. The NIF has, and continues to spend millions of dollars in an attempt to influence Israeli laws and politics, and to undermine our democracy. The time is now for the Israeli people to stand up against foreign influences. Israel can exist as both a Jewish state and a democracy, but only if we continually work to protect it.

Brooke Goldstein is the Founder and Executive Director of The Lawfare Project