Israel Must Grant All Citizens the Right to Civil Marriage

The radicalization of the rabbinical establishment have led to a situation where the status of women - on issues of marriage, property rights, child custody and divorce - is swiftly deteriorating.

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The dozens of Israeli couples who married about two weeks ago in a mass ceremony in the city square of Larnaca, Cyprus, didn't do so in order to break the Guinness record for mass weddings. They were forced to take part in this expensive procedure, far from home and family, because in Israel, there was no way they could have a civil wedding.

The United Nations has issued a report on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Gili Cohen (Haaretz, July 5 ) noted was handed to the government authorities here in February of this year. The UN is not interested in the coalition arrangements of successive Israeli governments. Like an earlier report that examined trafficking in human beings, this report deals particularly with the blatant undermining of women and their status.

Although Israel likes to boast that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East," and signed the convention requiring it to ensure equal rights for women in marriage and family relationships, it is ranked, according to Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, who heads Bar-Ilan University's Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women's Status, "in a bad place in the middle," and Israel, in effect, stands "among the countries of the developing world and the Muslim world."

The continuing abandonment of the areas of marital relationships and family to the control of the Orthodox establishment is not the legacy of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alone, but during his tenure there has been a worrisome worsening of the situation: The Haredization and radicalization of the rabbinical establishment have led to a situation where the status of women - on issues of marriage, property rights, child custody and, above all, divorce - is swiftly deteriorating. The thundering silence of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman in light of the reactionary norms that have taken over in the rabbinical courts and the ease with which the government has been expanding the powers of the rabbis have only exacerbated the situation.

Although the government has made several attempts to promote limited legislation for civil marriage for those "ineligible for marriage," this initiative is the product of a political effort to conciliate a small group among immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States, and has nothing to do with the principle of equality. The right to marry and to start a family is a basic civil right, as is a woman's right to equality in all areas of life. If Israel is still interested in being considered an open society and a progressive country, it must implement the recommendations of the UN commission, and enable all of its citizens to marry, divorce and live equally.

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