Why a Recent California Court Case Should Concern Jews

Jan. 26 2018

A ruling by a federal court in California, writes Mitchell Rocklin, suggests a disturbing threat to religious freedom that could have far-reaching implications:

The Ninth Circuit recently upheld a California law that requires pregnancy crisis centers to advertise state-funded abortions—when their very raison d’être is to promote other alternatives. The law further requires that the advertisement be made in thirteen languages, needs to be in the largest font of any material disseminated by the center, and must be made available at the beginning of the organization’s dealings with the client. This . . . requirement . . . effectively undermines the ability of pregnancy crisis centers such as the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) to offer their own advice to women as they see fit, and without violating their consciences. . . .

For centuries, American Jews have established institutions that allowed them to function as a small community within a larger American community. These included synagogues, schools, cemeteries, burial societies, libraries, lodges, social-service organizations, charities, community centers, and even hospitals. Sometimes these were created by choice, other times as responses to discrimination. Undeniably, American Jews have been able to participate fully in civil society without compromising their Jewish identity. But without the ability to express our Jewish identity in Jewish institutions—including through engaging in practices conforming to our religion and morality—our community will be greatly hindered. . . .

To this end, Orthodox Jews have a particular need for protection —the same protection that NIFLA is asking for in its lawsuit: the freedom to promote a message without being forced to comply with a governmentally favored alternative. . . . Let’s consider a few examples of how governmentally compelled speech could affect other Jewish organizations. . . . Should private rabbinical courts be required to advertise civil courts? Should Jewish rehabilitation centers or hospice programs be required to advertise secular alternatives? . . .

Orthodox Jews are particularly vulnerable to majority messages because they exist as an independent community that is in many ways separate from the rest of American society. To thrive, they must be free to cultivate their differences. While the cultural trend disfavoring traditionalist religion may be against Christian groups right now, there is nothing preventing it from turning against Jewish issues like circumcision and kosher slaughter. Indeed, the latter is already banned in several European countries, and has been legally challenged multiple times in the United States.

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More about: American Jewry, American law, Freedom of Religion, Orthodoxy, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Politics

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank