The Swing Vote

In Israel, the right controls about 40% of the vote give or take 5% and the left controls about 40% of the vote give or take 5%. Several minority parties control the rest of the vote, but none of those parties are as powerful as the ultra orthodox, which controls about 10% of the vote. Israel has a parliamentary system and this basically means that no one can govern effectively without the support of the ultra-Orthodox, giving them tremendous power as they can swing control of government to the left or the right as they choose.

Why is this important? Israel is not only a democratic state, but also a religious state. It was founded as a Jewish state. David ben Gurion, the first President, and an ardent secularist always thought that the ultra-Orthodox were an anachronism of another time and century and that it was soon to die away. I think he would be stunned to see how many there are in Israel (10% of the population now) now or how much power they have.

Despite 66% of Israelis not being religious, Israel has a Rabbinic court that controls marriage, divorce, who is considered to be Jewish and other “religious” matters.

Consider that being Israeli does not make you Jewish. Beyond there being Israeli Arabs (16% of the population of Israel), there are lots of Israelis, especially Russian immigrants, who either cannot accurately prove their ancestry or whose father is Jewish or grandparent is Jewish, but not their mother. Under the Law of Return, Israel in 1950 used Nazi Germany’s rule of who was Jewish and who wasn’t, basically any grandparent, spouse or parent could be Jewish, or any convert to Judaism and you could become an Israeli citizen.

So what does this mean? This means that since a religious court controls a big part of social life, there are tremendous iniquities in Israel. You could be Israeli, fight for the Israeli army, help build the country and you still would not be allowed to get married in Israel because an Orthodox Rabbi doesn’t feel that you are Jewish.

This means that secular Jews (remember they are the majority of the population) take ridiculous measures to get married. Israel will recognize marriages outside of the country. So many Israelis get married in Greece. One couple I met got married in Vegas.

But the problems don’t end there. If that couple in the future decides to divorce, they have to go to the Rabbinic court, which has a dim view of female rights and women’s voices in the divorce proceedings.

It gets worse. There is currently a feud going on right now between two orthodox Rabbis. One Rabbi ruled for various reasons that all of the conversions done by another orthodox Rabbi were not valid (thousands of people). This means that if this Rabbi converted you, then you are no longer Jewish. Now if you got married, since you were never Jewish and you can’t get married in Israel without being Jewish, then you were never really married!

All of these types of shenanigans and more drive secular Israelis even further from religion, because if that is religion is, then they want no part of it. This is a reminder for how powerful and important the separation between church and state is, and how absolutely lucky we are in the U.S. to have protections against these kinds of problems.