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

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations