The creeping religionization of the public space advanced further this week, with the announcement by the Union of Kinneret Cities that it will close the parking lots of 15 public beaches on Lake Kinneret on Yom Kippur. Previously these parking lots were closed only on Memorial Day, but at a July meeting, whose particulars were not made public until now, it was decided to prohibit parking in them on Yom Kippur and on Holocaust Remembrance Day as well, since these were days of “public sensitivity.”
On Yom Kippur many Israelis, including secular Jews and non-Jews, use the Kinneret beaches. These parking lots, some of which are around 500 meters from the shore, allow them safe access. The union’s decision is puzzling since the beaches slated for closure this year are far from residential areas. Those who choose to go there demonstrate respect for others by pursuing their activities far from people who fast on that day.
Moreover, declarations about sensitivity and demands to consider the needs of “others” may sound great in press releases, since no one seeks to maliciously harm their neighbor, but there is asymmetry at play here; the demand for sensitivity is one-sided. There is never any consideration for the other side, often defined as “people whose cart is empty.” This asymmetry escalates from year to year: Hospital security guards search visitors’ bags during Passover for chametz. Female passengers on El Al are asked to switch seats so that ultra-Orthodox men won’t be forced to sit next to them. Nature museums hide Darwin, lest his teachings unsettle the souls of visitors who believe in the biblical story of creation. Male and female students at Bar-Ilan University are segregated in the public shere so as not to offend the sensibilities of an imagined other.
Increasing numbers of public agencies and private companies accept, and sometimes initiate, a growing list of restrictions: non-Jews and nonobservant Jews are repeatedly asked to bow to the sensitivities of observant Jews.
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Local and national authorities must recognize the limits of their jurisdiction. In a democratic state, freedom of religion and conscience is a fundamental principle. No one can be forced to fast or not to work on Yom Kippur, or to mourn on designated memorial days. No one is asking the Union of Kinneret Cities to provide lifeguards on these days, or to staff their parking lots. But a natural resource such as Lake Kinneret — like city streets, roads, the air and the land — are not the private property of one sector of the public.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.