Regev Responds

Hiddush in the legal trenches

Legal advocacy – not for sprint runners!

In the last two weeks, there have been some important developments in Hiddush’s legal arena, and they remind us that this legal battle is not intended for short distance runners. It takes a great deal of time and perseverance.

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Last week, Haim Bitton, who held two positions constituting a blatant conflict of interest, finally resigned. He had served as both the CEO of the Shas party and as the CEO of the large education network that the Shas party established. This education network receives full funding from the state, and it is therefore barred from maintaining affiliation with any party. Hiddush has been working for several years to prevent conflicts of interest, and we threatened to appeal to the Supreme Court, until the Attorney General was finally convinced that justice was on our side and demanded that Bitton resign from one of his two positions. However, months later Bitton still lingered, and additional legal threats were needed until he finally resigned last week from his position as the Shas party’s director general. Nevertheless, there is a grave concern that this is purely for show, as Minister Aryeh Deri did not appoint another CEO to replace him, and the ultra-Orthodox media explained that the intention is that he will, in practice, continue to bear responsibility for the political advancement of Shas, especially in this period, as we are approaching yet another election campaign. Hiddush again addressed this issue, demanding that a "Great Wall of China" be established, ensuring a true separation, as legally required, between the two systems.

Hiddush again contacted the Jerusalem Municipality, demanding that it published on its website a full list of synagogues of all denominations, as well as of non-Jewish houses of worship. After responding to a petition submitted by Hiddush, the municipality had decided, instead of correcting its published list, which included only Orthodox synagogues [not even liberal or egalitarian Orthodox communities], to delete its original, partial and discriminatory list from its website. Last week, the court ruled in our favor against the municipality, for it was ascertained that the municipality had indeed acted illegally In publishing the partial, discriminatory list. Still, after the list was deleted from the website, we had to start the legal route again, and so we again appealed to the municipality; and it does not answer us in the affirmative - Hiddush will be forced to return to court.

Despite the State providing an idyllic description of the harsh reality in the field of civil burial in Israel, in response to Hiddush’s petition demanding at least temporary civil burial in kibbutzim and other agricultural localities, the Supreme Court finally issued a show cause order this week. Now, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Israel Land Authority must respond to our petition; and we look forward to the hearing to be held in the coming months on the merits of our petition.

Hiddush’s additional reminders and threats were needed, until, “quietly, quietly”, the IDF finally issued the amended ordinances more than a year(!) after committing to do so.

In the meantime, we are making progress in appealing to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, in preparation for Hiddush’s petition against them regarding the distortion of the spirit of the Alternative Civil Burial Act. When implementing the law in the metropolitan area of Tel Aviv, they decided to give the authority over civil burial - to the Orthodox Burial Society, which acts in accordance with the guidelines of the Chief Rabbinate of Tel Aviv. We are now working with local individuals, including the Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, and if we do not receive answers soon to our request - we will have to appeal to the Court on this issue as well.

Similarly, even after years of working to oblige the IDF to end the military Rabbinate’s monopoly over the military burials of Jews, and after Hiddush filed a petition with the Supreme Court on the matter, and it became clear to the military that it would have to do concede… And the IDF announced that new ordinances, approved by Hiddush, would be published within a few months… Hiddush’s additional reminders and threats were needed, until, “quietly, quietly”, the IDF finally issued the amended ordinances more than a year(!) after committing to do so. Now it remains to follow up on this and to make sure that in the sad and difficult event of a soldier's death - the military authorities will make it clear to his family that they have a choice for the very first time.

In October, Hiddush had to file a third petition against the IDF In the matter of the mass exploitation of false affidavits of exemption from military service for young women, who claim a religious way of life. Twice, we forced the IDF and the Ministry of Defense to take the necessary steps to implement the law and close this outrageous loophole, which permits thousands of young women every year to qualify for exemptions, based on false statements, without possibility of reversing these when it turns out that they were, indeed, false. However, at every stage, when the State was forced to take the next step towards the implementation of the law, it stopped and did nothing to actually implement it. We therefore had to petition for the third time, and last week we even addressed the Knesset, demanding it extend the validity of the law in this matter, which intended to be a temporary order for three years. Most of the State’s actions have been nothing more than delay tactics, so that it does not have to confront the ultra-Orthodox parties, which oppose the military service of women out of hand.

Also, in the context of this legal marathon, it is worth mentioning our friends at the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, which was infomed (just this week) to their delight that the Supreme Court had refused a request, which the State had been submitting regularly for years: to defer addressing 11 pending petitions on non-Orthodox conversion, until the politicians feel comfortable with it. [As is well known, there is almost no situation in which Israeli politicians feel comfortable dealing with the issue of "Who is a Jew?"]. The court denied the state's request, and we do hope that the Court will finally give its judgment in this multi-participant petition. Some of these petitions on non-Orthodox conversions were filed about 15 years ago! As we noted in the last newsletter, politicians are also preparing for such a possibility, and they are trying to enact a new conversion law to block the Court… but in the current political arena they may very well not succeed in doing so.

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