The Gospel According to Eli Ben Dahan

The deputy religious services minister is the operational definition of the problem of mixing religion and government.

Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz Editorial

To understand why the State of Israel mercilessly mistreats asylum seekers, why Bedouin are being asked to vacate land they’ve lived on for decades without anyone bothering to consult them, why Arab citizens of Israel face discrimination in nearly every aspect of life and why conversion to Judaism is such an arduous and insulting process, one need only hear the worldview of Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan.

In an interview published in the Friday edition of Maariv, Ben Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi) explained that “a Jew always has a much higher soul than a non-Jew.” He also described himself as “making sure the state remains Jewish” and said “Things that contradict [Jewish] values, culture or tradition will not get legal sanction.” The remarks were in connection to a bill that would give same-sex couples with children the same tax benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. Although the Knesset approved the bill in its first reading, Habayit Hayehudi reached a deal with Yesh Atid that will shelve the draft law and arrange for its provision to be granted in the tax code, thus avoiding official, legislative recognition of gay and lesbian couples.

But during the debate over institutional recognition of the choice to share own’s life with a person of the same sex, recognition that should be self-evident in a state that aspires to be enlightened and progressive, Ben Dahan actually exposed the distorted foundation that gives rise to cruelty against non-Jews, especially asylum seekers and members of religious minorities.

The idea that Jews are superior to all non-Jews is racist. Qualitative distinctions according to criteria such as religion, nationality, gender or race have no legitimacy. The fact of an Israeli deputy cabinet minister expressing such positions is a disgrace to the government and the state. The fact of a member of a party that championed “new politics” expressing such positions only exposes how deeply the old politics flows through its veins.

Ben Dahan expresses, in the saddest possible way, the problem of mixing religion and state. A democratic state is meant to treat all its citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, fairly and equally. It is not supposed to accept, much less allow representation in the cabinet and the legislature, benighted positions that confer legitimacy on the mistreatment of anyone not a member of the majority population.

It would behoove MKs who hold liberal positions to renounce Ben Dahan’s remarks and, more important, to work toward the separation of religion and state.

Yair Lapid, center, with Yuval Steinitz, left and Eli Ben-Dahan.Credit: Emil Salman

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