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The Federalization of Israel Is an Existential Necessity

Israel must be transformed into a federation of largely autonomous cantons with jurisdiction over education, personal-status law and determination of public norms.
The latest outbreak of Israel’s “Shabbat wars” grows out of Israel’s ongoing culture war. The clashes have broken out over everything from the use of ritual baths by non-Orthodox women and non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall to the stranglehold of the ultra-Orthodox establishment on marriage and divorce. Now the Haredim are trying to block the carrying out of critical maintenance work on trains during Shabbat, while Shas leader and Interior Minister Arye Dery is, once again, threatening to close down Tel Aviv on Shabbat.
It so happens that I know the Haredi world quite well, and speak to many Haredim off the record on these matters. Most of them actually feel quite uncomfortable with the antics of their political and rabbinical leadership, and think that the confrontations with secular Israel are unnecessary and useless.
Privately many tell me that clearly none of the noisy fights will stop Shabbat desecration by secular Jews, and that stranding 150,000 Israelis because Haredi pressure stopped train maintenance on Shabbat isn’t going to bring anybody closer to Judaism, certainly not to the Haredim. It only increases secular Jews’ disgust at the Haredi rabbinical and political establishment.
And a surprising proportion of my Haredi interlocutors say, off the record, that everybody should live according to their own beliefs. Unfortunately they refrain from publicly criticizing their leadership over actions that are deeply destructive to Israeli society and harm its democracy.
The essence of a liberal democracy is that the state does not interfere with individuals’ beliefs and way of life as long as they don’t harm others. This core value of liberal democracy is under constant attack in Israel: Haredim and national religious parties do everything in their power to impose their views of what a “real” Jew is on others, and the political right makes it clear that you must be a racist and a chauvinist if you want to be a good Israeli and not a “traitor.”
Hence Ari Shavit’s call to find a language that will speak to the hearts of all Israelis is illusory: Liberal values, often mistakenly called “leftist” in Israel’s confused political discourse, are deemed “weak” and “un-Israeli” by Israel’s majority. At this point, at most one third of the Knesset believes in truly liberal democratic values; the majority is pushing for law after law to slash away at individual freedoms and minority rights
So it is not surprising that secular liberals feel their core values of freedom of belief, expression and way of life are under attack, and that they are alienated from the state they fight for and pay taxes to but which nevertheless tramples their rights and values.
But liberal Israelis are not giving in. The number of Israeli couples who marry abroad to avoid contact with a rabbinical establishment they despise is growing; gay rights are firmly established; we eat non-kosher food as we please; and we do not accept any Orthodox dictate of what it means to be Jewish. But the feeling that we constantly need to fight for our core values inevitably deepens liberals’ estrangement from the state.
This is why I have argued for many years that Israel must be transformed into a federation of largely autonomous cantons with jurisdiction over education, personal-status law and determination of public norms. As time passes, a growing number of Israelis, mostly secular liberals, are taking this idea more seriously because the level of internal hatred and tension in Israel is becoming unbearable.
The only way to stop Israel’s culture wars is to create a federal structure under which Haredim, national-religious and secular-liberal Jews and Israel’s Arab citizens can live with some autonomy. Paradoxically, this to a great extent is already the condition of life for Haredim and Arabs: They have their own education system, and the state doesn’t meddle with their way of life.
This makes Israel’s secular liberals the most disadvantaged group in the country: We don’t have an education system of our own, and the state keeps encroaching on the most private matters of our life. We should have the right to our way of life in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzliya and Ramat Hasharon without depending on the whim of some Haredi MK, minister or rabbi, in the same way that Haredim can live as they please in Bnei Brak, Mea She’arim and Geula.
The federalization of Israel is not a luxury, but an existential necessity. If the country does not move towards a new status quo of “live and let live,” Israel will be destroyed not by external enemies, but, as former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo recently said, by internal strife and hatred.

Carlo Strenger
Haaretz Contributor

read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.742296

Schermata 2016 09 16 alle 10.12.50

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Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police




The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.802141

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