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

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas