Challenging inequity and illegal practices (some new and some lingering)
Stepping up Hiddush's legal advocacy
With key governmental ministries controlled by the ultra-Orthodox and Zionist Orthodox parties, and with these elements in the Coalition dictating their wills to the Government even beyond the sphere of their ministerial portfolios, there is a growing need for legal advocacy work to challenge inequity and illegal practices. Hiddush has been stepping up its legal advocacy work in response to this need; the following are just a few examples:
1) Hiddush recently submitted a petition to the Supreme Court against the Ministers of Defense and Justice and the Chairs of the Knesset Foreign Relations and Law committees, as well as the IDF. The issue at hand is the inaction of the Knesset and the Ministers since the Knesset's amendment of the Military Service Law in 2012 in an attempt to crack down on the thousands of young women falsely claiming (and receiving) exemptions from military service by declaring that they follow religious lifestyles and norms that preclude their IDF service. In 2012, the Knesset mandated the creation of an administrative committee authorized to void such exemptions if they were proven to be false. The Knesset further mandated a speedy process for adopting regulations to facilitate the work of this committee. Still, with the exception of one Knesset deliberation following the passage of this law, nothing further was done to finalize these regulations, let alone establish the committee and review falsely obtained exemptions. Hiddush's exploration of the issue, including Freedom of Information motions, revealed that an estimated 1,800 to 4,000 women falsely declare religious exemptions annually. These are easily obtained, and only a handful are reviewed. Even for the few that are investigated and found false, hardly any enforcement is carried out. Hiddush's petition aims to force the authorities to implement the 2012 law to stem the tide of draft dodging under false religious claims.
2) The Chief Rabbinate was forced to change its illegal, coercive kashrut regulations (link) and revoke its demand that hotels refrain from displaying Christmas and New Year's holiday symbols in response to Hiddush's repeated demands and threats of legal action. However, Jerusalem's Chief Rabbis issued a strongly worded message to Jerusalem's hotels last year regarding the prohibition of displaying Christmas trees. We challenged the legality of this action, and have just received a response from the Chief Rabbinate’s legal advisor, acknowledging that the Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem should have made it clear that their communication would have no bearing on the hotels' kashrut certifications – that hotels wouldn't be sanctioned in any way. Hiddush will monitor this matter further, seeing it as an area prone to abuse.
3) Hiddush was approached a small party supply store in Tel Aviv, which, along with its long inventory, sells sweets. The sweets are all kosher under the Chief Rabbinate's supervision, and they are all sold in their original sealed packaging. On their website, they listed these, as denoted by the Chief Rabbinate, as "Kosher Pareve." They were fined 2,000 NIS by the Rabbinate for not having the store under the Rabbinate's supervision, while advertising items as kosher. Clearly, an outrageous, illegal abuse of authority, and so we turned on behalf of the store to the Rabbinate, the Ministry of Religious Services, and the Attorney General, demanding that the fine be cancelled, an apology be issued to the owners, other fines be reviewed to identify similarly illegal ones, and clear and strict instructions be issued to prevent the recurrence of such breaches of authority. The Chief Rabbinate rescinded the fine in response to Hiddush’s legal action.
4) Through a series of Freedom of Information motions and analyses, Hiddush has realized that even the limited core curricular requirements for state funded ultra-Orthodox schools are not adhered to, and these infractions are detected by the Ministry of Education's supervisors. Alas, rather than stop public funding altogether, which would make such disregard unprofitable, the fines levied on the schools are minuscule in comparison to their State funding (which amounts to many millions of shekels), and moreover scores of schools are found to be in breach every year in recent years, yet there are no further consequences. Hiddush turned to the Ministry and the Attorney General, providing our detailed analysis of the Ministry's toothless policy, and demanded that such schools lose their State funding, that repeated infractions result in increasing penalties and consideration of personal criminal sanctions against the school administrators, and that all Haredi schools be expected to participate in the standardized testing, which would clearly be the only objective measure of their compliance. Naturally, we are ready to take legal action if necessary.
5) Throughout Israel there are 132 municipal religious councils which oversee the rendering of religious services to the Jewish population in their respective communities. They are meant to be democratically elected. However, due to the political design of the law governing these councils, 95 of the 132 councils (that's 72%!) remain un-elected. By law, the unelected councils are replaced with political appointees, selected by the Minister of Religious Services who rejects women applicants for these senior positions. This is, we maintain, in breach of Article 6 of the 1951 Law of Equal Rights for Women, which mandates that women should be equally represented in public bodies, if they hold the necessary qualifications. It is also utterly in breach of the promise we received from the Attorney General’s office (of women filling at least 30% of these senior positions) when we raised this matter in the past. Given the Religious Services Ministry's evasion of its obligation, Hiddush is preparing a petition to the Supreme Court, demanding equitable representation, which was promised, and we have invited other relevant NGOs, including some in the Orthodox sphere, to join in the petition.
6) In August 2015 Hiddush turned to the Minister of Defense, the IDF Chief of Staff, the Judge Advocate, the Attorney General and others, to demand that the IDF’s rules and regulations provide an option for civil and non-Orthodox military funerals, and resolve the battle over burial of soldiers whose mothers are not halakhically Jewish so that they be accorded the respect they deserve and be buried alongside with their Jewish fallen comrades. Now, given the military authorities' unresponsiveness regarding the substance and timing of the new rules that were promised to us, we find ourselves forced to prepare a petition asking the Supreme Court to order IDF to complete this process. It's a shame that such a petition is necessary, but even if it were to only speed things up, this would be of value.
7) Through freedom of information motions, and after repeated delays, we received information from the Ministry of Justice regarding occurrences of double- triple- and quadruple- dipping of (mostly) religious organizations into various Ministries' and government authorities' grants budgets, which is illegal. As you can see from the visual above, the 40 page document that was sent to us was greatly censored, as if this was a high security secret. This further increases our conviction that the authorities have much to hide, and Hiddush will be appealing their absurd partial disclosure, which renders their response nearly useless. This appeal to the administrative court will be on the grounds of improper invocation of exemptions under the Freedom of Information Law.