Time, Perseverance, and Patience

On the Legal Front

Recently we received a reminder of how important it is to not merely be able to petition the court in order to correct wrongs, but also to monitor implementation of court rulings and of the actual change in policy. That takes time, perseverance, and patience - a requisite for legal advocacy which by its nature is ongoing and can stretch out over a long period of time.

Israeli Memorial Day 2022, source: Western Wall Heritage FoundationIsraeli Memorial Day 2022, source: Western Wall Heritage Foundation

1. For years, we have been working to advance gender equality in the religious arena, and specifically to force the powers-that-be to appoint women to Religious Councils throughout Israel, and especially to senior positions on these councils. Our appeals have led the Attorney General to issue binding guidelines to the Ministry of Religious Services on this issue, and in recent months we have petitioned the High Court on behalf of Hiddush and on behalf of leading women's organizations, to demand that these guidelines be fully implemented in practice.

The State recently replied to the Court that this is indeed the current practice of the Ministry and described a new reality in which women are appointed according to these guidelines. Therefore, they requested that our petition be rescinded, since it had become redundant.

A few days ago we responded to the State's motion , stressing to the court that with all due appreciation of the newly declared policy, we could not reconcile the scant data which they provided [instead of a full and detailed report on women's appointments] with the data published in the Official Gazette, and in addition, that the numbers don’t add up and the appointments that we were able to find in the Official Gazette did not sufficiently comply with the Attorney General's Guidelines. Moreover, they also refrained from making a clear and explicit commitment as to the many appointments that need to be made in the coming months, nor did they commit to a timeline for their implementation. Given the fragile political reality, leaving these issues open, and knowing that there may be another minister taking over if this government cannot survive, it is of even greater importance to try and get a Court ruling rather than a vague commitment from the politicians to do the right thing. We therefore requested that the petition be kept alive at this stage and not rescinded, to be able to first check on the questionable data provided as well as ensuring a clear commitment for the next phases. We are awaiting the court's decision on this matter.

We do not intend to give up, and together with the women's organizations we represent, we will continue our legal advocacy to ensure that women receive the representation they deserve in the management of religious life in Israel.

 

They made false declarations concerning their religious lifestyle and were thus exempted from their obligatory military service.

2. As our readers and supporters are aware, Hiddush had to petition the court 3 times to force the IDF and the Ministry of Defense to act in accordance with the law and create a mechanism for administrative revocation of exemptions from military service that were given based on fraudulent claims. These are routinely granted to young women on the sole basis of an affidavit stating that their lifestyle and religious beliefs prevented them from serving in the military. It is widely known that thousands of young women exploited this nearly automatic exemption every year. They made false declarations concerning their religious lifestyle and were thus exempted from their obligatory military service. Through our petitions to court we succeeded in forcing the military authorities to establish and operate a commission that has the authority to administratively cancel the exemptions. Having done this, we wanted to know what had actually occurred since the commission had finally begun to operate. Our requests for information remained unanswered, and in the meantime the temporary amendment to the law, (which mandated the procedure for administrative cancellations of exemptions obtained on false pretenses) expired.

Not receiving responses to our requests left us with no choice but to turn once again [for the 4th time!] to court. So, now that the matter has reached the court, we recently finally received the Army's response, almost a year after having filed a Freedom of Information Request. But it now turns out that the information that the military authorities provided to us was only partial, and worse – some key parts were blacked out in a manner that obscured the information regarding procedures for examining and verifying claims regarding religious lifestyle and beliefs. Among other things, we were informed that the military authorities had conducted a mere 1435 random verification examinations (out of approximately 36,000 exemptions that were issued over 2 years). Their examinations revealed only six cases in which there was a suspicion of a false affidavit (0.4%!). It is difficult to disregard the huge gap between this figure and the repeated statements of senior military officials given to Knesset committees that the scope of fraudulent affidavits regarding religious exemptions was estimated at 10% -30%. This and the fact that they have chosen to blacken out the military verification procedures, may point more to the effort of not finding fraudulent affidavits, rather than to upholding the law, searching for instances of illegally dodging the draft by claiming false religious adherence, and sanctioning those who chose this course. This both undermines the rule of law and abuses religion.

It is difficult to assume that this is also unrelated to a scandal exposed a few years ago, when it was discovered that military officials systematically falsified Haredi enlistment data to create the impression that many more Haredim enlist than those who actually enlisted. In both cases the practice of the authorities in the IDF and the Ministry of Defense, as well as the relevant figures at the Knesset, seemed to prefer to look the other way when dealing with such an explosive landmine as the religion/state clash and the constant excessive pressure of the Haredi politicians. In any case, today we wrote the State Attorney's Office and demanded that they complete the missing information, and if necessary, we will go to court to present our challenges to the inadequate State response.



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