The Israeli Government Should Seek to Make Accommodations for Those Who Observe the Sabbath

Feb. 11 2019

Last week saw controversy in Israel over the decision of the Shalva Band—made up primarily of young people with disabilities—not to compete in this year’s Eurovision song contest, which ironically will be held in the Jewish state. The reason: the band’s religious members want to avoid performing on the Sabbath. Shlomo Brody comments on the fact that Jerusalem failed to obtain the necessary accommodations in advance from the competition’s organizers:

Israeli politics are dominated frequently by talk of alleged religious coercion. In the past year alone, for example, the ruling coalition nearly collapsed over disputes about open mini-markets and construction work on bridges over Shabbat. While some coalition members argued that shops should stay closed and construction should be halted in order to preserve the status quo, others lamented that such actions violated civil rights by imposing religious restrictions on shop owners and laborers.

Yet with all of this talk of freedom from religion, freedom of religion sometimes gets overlooked. Take, for example, the case of professional Israeli soccer players. In March, the government decided to extend permits to allow Israeli professional soccer matches to take place on Shabbat, in consonance with long-standing practice. This, however, was in spite of the fact that over 300 players from the top-tier leagues requested to find alternatives to Shabbat games, garnering significant support from the Israeli public. . . . Yet no one was willing to rock the boat on this issue.

Instead we are left with a situation in which secular mini-market owners feel threatened if they keep their stores open on Shabbat while traditional or religious soccer players feel compelled to play on the holy day. . . .

Does this “status quo” make sense? Not from the perspective of those who pride themselves on supporting religious liberty. Furthermore, a more sensible approach would be doing everything possible for Israelis of different religious commitments to participate together in sporting and cultural events, especially when they are taking place within the country and under internal control. In the case of Eurovision, Israeli officials woke up too late to fight for religious accommodations.

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Read more at Jewish Telegraphic Agency

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli music, Judaism in Israel, Religion & Holidays, Religious Freedom, Sabbath

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians