Unfortunate Reminders: No week without some religion-state flare-ups in Israel
Israel's exclusion of women and lack of civil burial alternative
This week Hiddush initiated stern communications to the authorities over two critical issues: 1) the gross breach of responsibility of the Ministry of Religious Services to provide an option for alternative civil burial, and 2) the exclusion of women from a medical conference about women’s health.
Mount of Olives cemetery, source: Wikipedia
Diaspora Jewry is accustomed to news of occasional scandals coming out of Israel over issues of religion & state. For those of us who live in Israel, not a week goes by without some flare-up reminding us of the urgent and multi-faceted challenge of resolving the religion-state conflict.
This week, in addition to the bombshell of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Tel Aviv municipality Shabbat ordinance, Hiddush initiated stern communications to the authorities over two additional critical issues: 1) the gross breach of responsibility of the Ministry of Religious Services to provide an option for alternative civil burial, and 2) the exclusion of women from a medical conference about women’s health.
In the first matter, a secular Jewish Israeli from Tel Aviv passed away, and his family sought to arrange a civil burial for their beloved husband and father, in accordance with Israel's 1996 Alternative Civil Burial Law. His loved ones were informed that residents of Tel Aviv and its environs were not allowed to have civil burial ceremonies - only religious Orthodox burials, performed by the official Orthodox burial societies.
Although in recent years the Ministry of Religious Services has repeatedly claimed the existence of dozens of civil burial facilities and cemeteries, today's reality indicates that the information does not represent the situation on the ground.
Hiddush’s investigation revealed that there is currently no civil burial for the residents of Tel Aviv and most of the cities in its vicinity, and the only alternative that was presented to this bereaved family was the civil cemetery in Be'er Sheva, far away in the South. Moreover, over the course of time, civil burial alternatives that once existed have been reduced, so that there is currently no possibility of civil burial at a reasonable distance to almost all the residents of the country. It has become clear that even kibbutzim in the area, which once provided this alterative, are no longer doing so because of threats by the Israel Land Authority.
The long-term failures of the Ministry of Religious Services (run by the Shas party) have effectively taken away the public’s legal right to alternative civil burial, which was recognized by the Knesset.
Hiddush has sent a letter, outlining our research of this matter to Minister Azoulay, demanding that he instruct officials to act directly and through the Israel Land Administration to provide an immediate solution, as required by law – civil burial, financed by the State of Israel, and at a reasonable distance from the homes of the Israeli families. Hiddush has demanded a response from the Minister, and we will write further on this matter as events unfold.
A conference on women's health is scheduled to take place this Sunday at Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv. Despite the subject of the conference, women are completely excluded. Not only will there be no female professionals presenting at the conference, but women's attendance is also prohibited.
The second matter is a conference on women's health scheduled to take place this Sunday at Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv. Despite the subject of the conference, women are completely excluded. Hiddush’s inquiry revealed that not only will there be no female researchers or health professionals presenting at the conference, but women's participation is also prohibited.
In 2012, the Israeli Medical Association’s Ethics Bureau formulated and published clear instructions, according to which doctors are committed to the principle of equality between the sexes, and should refrain from participating in events at which women are excluded. This was an important step, which showed that Israeli doctors were prepared to stand up to religious extremism.
The IMA Ethics Bureau’s guidelines state as follows:
- The exclusion of women is an unacceptable phenomenon that is contrary to the value of equality and the values of democracy, and it thereby harms human dignity.
- The exclusion of women in the medical system can be expressed in the receiving of medical services, providing of medical services, medical publications, conferences, receiving awards for professional achievement, obtaining positions in the medical system, etc.
- Doctors will not support the phenomena of exclusion of women in the medical system, including any act that causes discrimination, humiliation or degradation of a woman whether she is being treated or is a doctor.
- Doctors, including medical directors, will do their best to serve as examples, leading social actions that contribute to equality between the sexes and prevent recognition or consent, whether by act or silence, of steps that contradict this principle.
Given these clear guidelines and a commitment on the part of the director general of the Ministry of Health in 2014 to intervene to prevent such occurrences of exclusion of women from medical conferences, we were surprised and dismayed, and Hiddush turned to a host of authorities with an urgent protest.
The guidelines were a very important contribution on the part of the medical profession to counter the dangerous trend gender discrimination, which is rising in the ultra-Orthodox community, and Hiddush will report on any future developments.
As ever, and as we were reminded of this week in these and other instances, Israel’s unholy alliance of religion and state continues to undermine the very foundations of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. Together with partnering organizations and activists in Israel and the Diaspora, Hiddush strives to help Israel secure the promise made in its Declaration of Independence: that of freedom of religion and conscience for all!