Is Religious Freedom Under Threat in Israel?

July 13 2015

Perhaps on paper, writes Haviv Rettig Gur, but not in reality. Last week ultra-Orthodox cabinet members successfully repealed two measures aimed at curbing the power of the Israeli rabbinate, and a civil-marriage bill failed to pass in the Knesset. However, personal freedom in Israel remains robust, as exemplified by, among other things, the marriage issue. Gur writes:

Israel is arguably the most restrictive and coercive state religious system in the free world, yet ordinary Israelis are in important ways actually living in one of the democratic world’s most liberal societies. . . . For Israelis, marriage and divorce can be conducted only through state religious courts: Jews in state-funded rabbinic courts, Muslims in parallel state-funded Sharia courts, Catholics in canon-law courts, etc.

Worse, any Israeli who is not accepted by one of these state-recognized religions as a member—such as Reform converts to Judaism, Protestants, and the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish family members of Russian-speaking Jews—simply cannot marry at all, not even each other. . . . But for all that, [my summary] of Israeli marriage law leaves out the most important fact about the whole system: the extent to which it is ignored by, and ignores, Israel’s social reality. . . .

In legal rulings over the years, Israel’s secular courts, keenly aware of the lack of marriage options for large swaths of the population, have increasingly recognized other forms of relationships as conferring protections usually associated with marriage. Wielding the ancient halakhic term y’duim b’tsibur, “known to the public,” in a way not unlike the English concept of common-law marriage, this glacial judicial reform, taking place in piecemeal rulings over several decades, has quietly transformed Israeli society. Where formal law has left hundreds of thousands of Israelis literally without access to marriage, courts have responded by extending the most important and intimate protections of marriage to nearly every cohabiting couple, including gays.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gay marriage, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Israeli society, Religious Freedom, Ultra-Orthodox

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela