by Chana Ya'ar
The U.S. State Department under Secretary Hillary Clinton claims that Israel violates religious freedom at the same level as Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and China.
“Religious freedom can be restricted in a variety of ways, from the overt to the subtle,” explains the department's annual International Religious Freedom Report on 198 countries and territories surveyed by its foreign service personnel, released Wednesday for the period July 1, 2008 - June 30, 2009. A wide spectrum of efforts are used to undermine such rights, extending to multilateral, regional and global arenas, the report continues.
Part I of the Executive Summary discusses overall conditions during the reporting period in countries where “violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy.” Israel is listed among 30 nations selected for this category -- including Afghanistan, China, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen -- due to the emphasis of the Jewish State on maintaining the status quo with regard to respect for Jewish legal standards.
Israel's adherence to specific Jewish legal (halakhic) strictures are the basis for some of the American claims, though the State Department report does not note that non-adherence to these would violate Jewish religious freedoms. (For last year's State Department denunciation of Israel and responses, click here.)
The report complained, for instance, that three Messianic Jews were denied the right to immigrate to Israel during the reporting period. Other issues of contention included Israel’s unwillingness to recognize conversions performed in the country which do not meet criteria under Torah law, identification cards (Teudot Zehut) that differentiate between Jews and non-Jews, and the authority over marriages and burials exercised by the Chief Rabbinate, which is Orthodox.
All religions have freedom of worship in Israel -- unlike the other four countries mentioned above.
In addition, the report erroneously claimed that Israel extends protection only to Jewish holy sites, rather than to all holy sites as is mandated under the law. “The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law applies to holy sites of all religious groups within the country and in all of Jerusalem, but the Government implements regulations only for Jewish sites,” complained the report. “Non-Jewish holy sites do not enjoy legal protection under it because the Government does not recognize them as official holy sites."Outright Lie
In fact, this last is an outright lie. Government security forces often prevent Jews from even approaching the Temple Mount, and numerous Jews have been arrested -- including a young bride and her father at one point -- for infractions as spurious as simply "moving their lips" on the site, because the area has been designated an official holy site for Muslims, where the Al-Aqsa mosque is located.
All Islamic sites are controlled by the Waqf, also known as the Islamic Religious Authority – due to the preference of the imams themselves, and under a special arrangement. Much damage has been caused and thousands of priceless artifacts from the First and Second Temple eras have been destroyed due to damage caused by construction near the Dome of the Rock mosque – which rests on the Temple Mount, where the Jewish Holy of Holies is located -- authorized by the Waqf.
Likewise the churches, which each fall under the authority of their own religious groups. For example, the Vatican controls its own churches, convents and monasteries, and even other properties. Israel has been involved in delicate talks with the Vatican over the issue of sovereignty of some 21 disputed properties in the Land of Israel for more than 11 years – and in fact, the Holy See has not even paid taxes on most of the properties.
To read the 2009 International Report on Religious Freedom's specific section on Israel, click here.
To read the U.S. State Department's full 2009 International Report on Religious Freedom, click here.Chana Ya'ar
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