Jews Need Not Fear Religious Freedom

Aug. 29 2022

In two recent rulings—one involving a college football coach who wished to pray on the field, the other involving the directing of state funding to religious schools—the Supreme Court decided in favor of an expansive definition of freedom of religion and against the argument that any sign of government favor toward religious practices or institutions should be seen as a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition on establishing an official state religion. Two prominent mainstream Jewish groups, the Antidefamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), condemned these decisions. To Jonathan Tobin, their position reflects the understandable but misguided attitude of many American Jews:

As a religious minority in a country that was overwhelmingly Christian and because of their experiences elsewhere, Jews have always tended to view the public expression of faith as inherently dangerous. Jews had thrived in America in a way that was unmatched in the long history of the Diaspora, and at the core of the safety and acceptance that they found here was the fact that no faith was “established” as the official state religion. Judaism has always been on an equal basis with Christian denominations, whose adherents made up the overwhelming majority of the population. But to many Jews, fear of faith in the public square has led them to see the Constitution’s sensible balance between non-establishment and defense of free exercise as worrisome.

In the 20th century, politically liberal Jews who saw the issue solely through the prism of past fears were part of a movement that sought to rid the public domain of religion. Yet that hasn’t made them any safer or freer. While liberal Jewish groups remain obsessed with a non-existent threat to Jewish rights from religious Christians, who are now more likely to be philo-Semitic than hostile to Jews, they are blind to other more pertinent dangers.

Read more at JNS

More about: ADL, American Jewry, Freedom of Religion, Supreme Court


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount