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

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.

Read more at Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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

 

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship