But Not for Jews

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar, who is serving as president of the Rabbinical High Court, surprised the chair of the Committee for the Advancement of Women, MK Eti Livni of Shinui, saying that he was willing to introduce civil marriage for non-Jews and people who have no religion.

Several weeks ago, the Knesset's Committee for the Advancement of Women and the State Control Committee met with chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger and discussed the State Comptroller's Report on the rabbinical courts. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar, who is serving as president of the Rabbinical High Court, surprised the chair of the Committee for the Advancement of Women, MK Eti Livni of Shinui, saying that he was willing to introduce civil marriage for non-Jews and people who have no religion.

Last year, when former chief rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron proposed the introduction of civil marriage, his words created a storm. At the time, rabbi Amar voiced sharp opposition to the idea. It should be noted that Amar's current proposal, interesting as it may be, is very limited. It relates only to marriage of non-Jews with each other.

Amar told Haaretz this week that his suggestion is intended to solve the problem of 300,000 religionless, non-Jewish immigrants. "We can conduct a Noahide marriage ceremony for them in the offices of the rabbinate or the religious council. We would do it in a dignified, easy and relaxing manner, and they would not have to go abroad to get married."

Amar invited representatives of non-Jewish immigrants to discuss the matter with representatives of the rabbinate. "If they would want to do a ceremony or put on a ring, then why not? We're open to any idea." The chief rabbi believes this would solve 90 percent of the problem of those people who cannot marry in Israel. "For anyone who seriously and earnestly wants to solve the problem," he said, "I think this is an excellent, balanced and logical way to go."

Lapid sees retreat

At the same time, he stresses that he is not prepared for civil marriage between Jews and religionless individuals. "We have enough troubles with assimilation all over the world. This may be the most terrible blow that is attacking the Jewish people from the rear. We don't have to be a party to assimilation in Israel, as well, and encourage it...Help assimilation? Are you kidding?"

Livni relates that she sent Amar's proposal on to Shinui chair Yosef Lapid. Lapid was not enthusiastic. He is afraid that discussion of rabbi Amar's proposal would amount to a retreat, since there are rabbis who have already agreed to a suggestion of a marriage contract, a sort civil marriage substitute for all interested parties. Livni feels that Amar's proposal is nevertheless worthy of public debate, "even if it is not worthy of adopting."

Collecting addresses

Two weeks ago, the partner of Carolina Martinez applied to the local Population Registry office, asking that she be granted a residency permit in Israel, by virtue of their relationship. Until recently, Martinez, 22, had immunity from deportation as the daughter of foreign workers. But the legalization arrangement for children of foreign workers on which the government eventually decided does not apply to her because she was not born here, even though she is Israeli through-and-through and does not at all know the land of her birth, Colombia.

For Carolina Martinez, the only way to remain in the only country she knows is through the request of a spouse. Her boyfriend says he was warned by a clerk at the Population Registry that if he filed the request, she would transfer his address to the Immigration Police. Alarmed, he decided against doing so. Martinez will continue to live in Israel unlawfully.

A few days later, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) met with Sassi Katzir, director of the Population Registry, and asked if his office transfers addresses of applicants for legal status in Israel to the enforcement unit of the Immigration Police. Katzir answered in the affirmative, says ACRI attorney Oded Feller. The Population Registry issued a directive that forbids calling the Immigration Police to arrest illegal aliens in the Registry's offices. What's more, the organization is usually careful about observing this directive. Attorney Michal Pinchuk of ACRI is unable to understand the difference between an arrest in the Registry office and submitting the current address of illegal aliens to the Immigration Police.

Population Registry officials assert that they want to encourage the children of foreign workers to file applications to regulate their status. Now the question is raised if one of their objectives is gathering the addresses of those whose applications will be rejected, which would make it easy to deport them. Without a doubt, this policy would deter many individuals who are not certain that they meet the criteria for naturalization, from applying and trying their luck. Pinchuk says that the state has a decided interest in encouraging illegal aliens to regulate their status. But the Population Registry is sabotaging this effort.

Population Registry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said in response, "The Population Registry is obligated to transfer information to the Immigration Police only in cases where the application of a foreign citizen residing in Israel unlawfully is denied, and he is asked to leave the country. That is to say, the Interior Ministry does not transfer information to the Immigration Police on every application filed by an alien residing unlawfully in the country. The conclusion that we `deter people from regulating their status' is indiscriminate, and is certainly inexact."

As for the case of Carolina Martinez, the director of the Population Registry sent a response to the interior minister, stating that the Kfar Sava bureau was unfamiliar with the case, that the clerk did not carry on such a conversation on the telephone, and that Population Registry employees are not in the practice of issuing threats in the name of the Immigration Police.

The Festivities Law

In the last days of each Knesset session, dozens of legislative bills are debated in the plenum, assembly-line fashion. Most of them receive no media coverage. One of the proposals that was approved in a preliminary vote last week was put forward by MK Michael Eitan, which says the State Comptroller Law would apply to the Jewish National Fund, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. The bill enjoys the support of the government, and it will be debated in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which is chaired by Eitan, meaning that there is a reasonable chance that the law will be approved in this Knesset. Now we are only left to wonder how it is that these three foreign travel-intensive bodies were not subject to such oversight until now.

A bill drafted by MKs Ahmed Tibi, Mohammed Barakeh and Issam Makhoul, which passed its first reading this week, defines a new criminal violation: "Use of explosives or a gun at a celebration or ceremony." Not that until now the law permitted shooting at weddings or at other Arab festivities. This legislative initiative, however, makes an express statement, raises the maximum punishment from three years to four years and defines the violation as a crime rather than a misdemeanor.

In the Knesset debate, Tibi said that the result of the firing of weapons is often tragic. "Every year, people are killed and injured at weddings. Sometimes it's the bride, sometimes it's the groom, sometimes it's one of the guests," he said. "The law enforcement establishment does not apply the law with these people. If anyone wants to express happiness, he should dance, but he shouldn't use weapons and cause injury or death, and turn the joy into sadness and grief for so many families."

The bill enjoys wall-to-wall support. It may be assumed that Tibi's satisfaction at the advancement of the bill was spoiled by the compliments heaped on him by MK Nissim Zeev, one of the more right-wing legislators, along the lines of, "I am truly amazed. I thought Tibi would be against such a law."