Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, together with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, her partner in the leadership of the Habayit Hayehudi party, is continuing her assault on proper governmental conduct and Israel’s civic democratic character. The Justice Ministry’s decision to support a rival justice system – the so-called financial affairs tribunals, which are private arbitration courts that will operate according to Jewish law – is worrying.
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Under the Justice Ministry’s aegis, the state is strengthening an alternative justice system that effectively rejects and seeks to replace the laws of the state. It is privatizing the legal system in favor of a system that discriminates against women. Requisite sensitivity toward the beliefs and values of different groups within Israeli society, which are diverse and sometimes at odds with each other, must not come at the expense of one egalitarian law for all.
This is the first time the government has ever supported activity of this kind, from which only Orthodox groups are expected to benefit. The proposed regulations were published for public comment two weeks ago, a preliminary step on the way to approving this arrangement – a process Shaked is spearheading. The tribunals are being set up primarily for the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, some of whom view the civil justice system as “non-Jewish courts.” Now, this contempt is being nurtured by the justice minister herself.
The financial affairs tribunals will be committed to an Orthodox approach, one that will dictate their operation and their rulings. In such a system, women will not be equal to men, and it’s very unlikely that such equality will be achieved in the foreseeable future.
Having won the state’s support, this system will now enjoy official recognition – a step toward becoming salient. Yet the fact that this is an arbitration system, to which both sides must agree of their own free will, doesn’t make it a legitimate alternative which the state ought to encourage. How free is any person’s will in a non-egalitarian, separatist community that opposes the civil courts? Shaked will bear responsibility for pushing people into the arms of this non-egalitarian system.
Publication of the proposed regulations was preceded by an argument within the Justice Ministry between critics of Shaked’s initiative and those who justified it. In the end, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s legal opinion legitimized support for the tribunals, apparently in the same spirit as his view that the religious public’s demands for gender separation must be respected.
Multiculturalism must not serve as an excuse for the state to respect or fund institutionalized discrimination. Given the fact that the state will support the rabbinical financial affairs tribunals as the only alternative to the legal system, that the new process will expand the exclusion of women into additional walks of life and that it will promote a dangerous competition with the state’s own laws, this initiative must be shelved.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel