Some 200 Israelis Urge Interior Ministry to Change Their Status to 'Without Religion'

Move prompted by Yoram Kaniuk's request for status change, accepted by Tel Aviv District Court; Kaniuk tells those following in his footsteps 'Judaism and democracy cannot go together.'

Some 200 people met Sunday at an abandoned building on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard to sign declarations asking the Interior Ministry to change the status in their identity cards to "without religion."

The gathering took place on the roof of the building, which has become an ad-hoc community center for the social protest movement.

People signing up to be recognized as 'without religion,' - Moti Milrod -  October 9, 2011
Moti Milrod

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A few of the people, mainly seniors, managed to get seats, but most stood closely packed in dim light to hear the main speaker, Yoram Kaniuk, whose recent request for a change to "without religion" was accepted by the Tel Aviv District Court. Also present was veteran leftist activist Uri Avneri and MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), who expressed support for the move but did not sign a declaration.

"The combination of Judaism and democracy cannot go together," Kaniuk said in his opening remarks, adding: "I didn't expect you all to be here. I didn't mean to make a big deal out of this."

"I don't believe in God. And if He existed, I would kill Him for what He has done," Kaniuk said. "The greatest enemies of Judaism today are the rabbinate and the religious establishment,"

Kaniuk told people they should go to the Interior Ministry in person to apply for the change in status, and it would be very difficult to turn them down. "It will scare them," he said.

Kaniuk said the state ought to treat his case as a precedent.

"We are part of the revolution here," Mickey Gitzin, head of Be Free Israel, a movement advocating freedom from religion. "The fact that hundreds of people show up at such short notice shows that they have had it with the unacceptable link between religion and the state in Israel."

The man who initiated the event, Tel Aviv poet Oded Carmeli, told the group their action was "the first crack in the wall."

Relating to a Molotov cocktail thrown at a synagogue and the defacing of graves in a Muslim and a Christian cemetery in Jaffa last week, Carmeli said: "Religion brings terrible violence."

But one person in the crowd called out: "I urge you not to sign and not to lose your Judaism. Do things rationally. You are doing something that even the Nazis were not able to do."

When the speeches were over, two attorneys, Omer Shatz and Yiftah Cohen, set up plastic chairs at an old table and began to sign affidavits declaring their desire to be recognized as religion-less.

Shatz explained that people could write their own letters to the Interior Ministry, without a lawyer, but sending the requests in at the same time would empower the protest.

The people who filled out the affidavit each payed an NIS 50 lawyer's fee.

"I am a secular Jew. My greatest dream is to separate religion from the state," said the first man to sign, Yishai Polchek, 69, from Tel Aviv.

"I respect religious people, but everything having to do with the religious establishment creates serious problems in every area. Everything connected to religion is a huge disaster for the state," he added.

Prof. Yosef Neuman, 81, said it was very important for him to take part in the event. People should live by their faith, he said "but without coercion," adding, "Victory begins with one small step."

Neuman said he would not hesitate to go to court, the way Kaniuk had done, if the Interior Ministry rejected his application for a change in status.