Some interfaith conflict in the Israeli Parliament:
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein says he refused to display a Christmas tree in the parliament because of the “painful memories” it evoked among Jews.
Edelstein told Israel Radio Thursday such a public display of a Christian symbol could be construed as offensive.
Earlier this week, Edelstein rejected the request of a Christian-Arab lawmaker. He said the parliamentarian could display a tree in his office and party’s conference room.
Edelstein says the initiative is part of an Arab campaign to chip away at Israel’s Jewish nature. He warned that if he had agreed he would then likely face further requests to display a cross and crescent in parliament.
Edelstein has a point, of course. He’s quite right that as soon as the state agrees to adopt the symbolism of a particular religion, it then risks the appearance—if not the active adoption—of favoritism towards the selected group, and others will complain.
But what’s strange about this incident is that Israel pretty clearly has a favored religion already. Judaism is the official state religion of Israel in everything but name, and it’s obvious to anyone that examines the relationship between State and religious authorities in the country. To highlight an example that came up recently, Jewish religious authorities are given state funding to investigate marriage seekers, in order to prevent the “wrong” kind of marriages from occurring, including marriages involving “individuals of questionable Jewishness.” Haaretz made the following helpful chart at the link above to explain Israel’s marriage system:
Basically, Israel’s religious authorities are paid by the state to subject citizens seeking marriage licenses to something akin to a religous purity test. Anyone who fails or refuses is denied a marriage license and may seek a civil union. But you can only get a civil union if you declare yourself as “no religion” on a state form, which a lot of religious people are clearly not going to be comfortable doing. All of this, unfortunately, is done with the blessing of the Israeli Government, which remains forever fearful of any type of cultural assimilation that could cause Israel to lose its “Jewish nature,” to use Edelstein’s term.
These are just more examples of how Israel’s obsession with remaining a “Jewish State” creates a quagmire for the Government of Israel. Religious Judaism is obviously a very important part of Jewish identity, so a significant part of the Israeli Government’s attempts to maintain the “Jewish nature” of Israel includes subsidizing the activities of Jewish religious authorities. Unfortunately, this sometimes inures to the detriment of Israeli citizens, including Jewish Israelis who may be subjected to invasive and humiliating investigations by religious authorities seeking to “authenticate” a couples’ Jewishness before they’re allowed to receive a marriage license.