Opinion

Israel's Weakening Secularism

The disguise of Western liberalism doesn’t protect secular Israelis from being dragged into a religious revolution

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting in the Knesset on March 25, 2018.
מארק ישראל סלם

Two-meter high “decorative and modern” fences, opaque, but not entirely, will be the Israel Defense Forces’ protective equipment to preserve the innocence of female soldiers who join the army. The purity of the male soldiers will be preserved by means of permission to be absent from a place where women’s singing is heard.

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In the kupat holim clinics, non-Jewish doctors will serve as a fortified wall against the desecration of the Shabbat. At the “Games from the Old Days” event being organized by the Education Ministry, boys will not be allowed to play with girls. Hopscotch, dodgeball and jump rope, which used to be very mixed games, will be gender separated as though they were prayers in an Orthodox synagogue. On bus lines in Jerusalem, women are required to move to the back seats for fear of igniting passions, while around the corner, discussion of the “Minimarket Law” to close them on Shabbat is pending in the High Court of Justice, and who knows what else we can expect.

Maybe separation between men and women in private cars, as in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps separate public parks for men and women, as in Iran, where 4-year-old boys are deemed men for gender separation purposes.

The need to compare Israel to benighted countries where religion dictates the lifestyle, by way of illustrating how the country is sliding downhill, is gradually becoming superfluous. It is Israel that is becoming a role model. If the high-tech, Western, liberal democratic state is injecting God into every cell of its organism and granting its backward rabbis the authority to dictate the civil lifestyle, then Iran, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan are allowed to take an example from it.

The secular community, which in Israel has become a sector, should be worried. The disguise of Western liberalism with which they clothe themselves doesn’t protect them from blind surrender to the term “Jewish state,” and from being dragged into the religious revolution that is considered a substitute for the national and Zionist identity.

If up until a few years ago reports of separation between boys and girls in kindergartens in ghettos such as Beit Shemesh, Modi’in Illit, Immanuel or Bnei Brak seemed a curiosity, strange conduct characteristic of unusual, harmless creatures, it now turns out that this is a plague being encouraged by the government, which is turning secularism and secular people into a curiosity.

If in the past the religious affiliation of the country’s Jews, both secular and religious, served as a justification for establishing a nation-state, now religion itself is becoming Israel’s raison d’etre. In other words, the state is a tool serving religion rather than its citizens. The path of the religious takeover of the country is similar to the way settlement in the territories was transformed from being a protégé of the state, one whose existence was justified by the security and connection to the past it provides the state, into being the state’s landlord, its vision and its raison d’etre.

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The result is that without settlements and without an attempt to strengthen religion, there is no meaning to the term “the State of Israel.” That is the great success of the settlement “enterprise” and the “enterprise” of strengthening religion, which are forcing the secular majority to bow down to Moloch.

If in the not so distant past, and to a great extent even now, the expression “to take others’ feelings into consideration” was a deception designed to convince secular people to be generous, to allow an oppressed minority to conduct its ceremonies and customs as though they were an endangered species, today there is no longer any room for this expression. The war is being fought over the identity of the citizens of the state and of the state itself, and not about barriers between male and female soldiers or a shared game of dodgeball.

This is a particularly difficult battle, because it must be waged between a secular majority and its government, between secular citizens, who are seen as rebellious militias, and well-oiled and well budgeted system. It’s a battle between volunteers such as school principals, teachers and human rights activists, and those who have the power to deprive them of their livelihood, their budgets and their dignity. In such a war there is no room for “taking others’ feelings into consideration,” for “reconciliation,” and certainly not for surrender.