#religion | Listing demands, Liberman vows not to compromise any further on religion-state

Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman on Friday published a list of demands regarding religion and state, saying they are the absolute minimum to which his secular party will agree in any negotiations to form a coalition government.

In a post on his Facebook page, Liberman demanded the passing of a bill drafting members of the ultra-Orthodox community into the army, unchanged from its current form which was drawn up when he was still defense minister. The ultra-Orthodox parties, who represent a community that largely rejects the compulsory national army service, have demanded it be changed, reducing to annual quotas for call ups.

Liberman further said that a law governing the operation of mini-markets on Saturdays must be abolished. Under the so-called mini-markets law, passed just last year, the interior minister has the power to oversee and reject local ordinances relating to whether businesses may remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening until Saturday night.

Likewise, public transportation on Saturdays must be allowed at the discretion of each municipality, Liberman said. In Israel, buses and trains do not generally run in Jewish-majority cities on Friday night and Saturday before sundown. Secular Israelis have long chafed at their restricted mobility during the weekend and Tel Aviv recently launched a free minibus service to address the issue.

A public transport minibus drives through central Tel Aviv on Saturday, November 23, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Furthermore, wrote Liberman, municipal rabbis must be given the authority to carry out conversions to Judaism and there must be unlimited rights to civil marriage.

Currently, Jewish marriage and conversion is controlled by the Orthodox Rabbinate which refuses to carry out civil marriages. Alternative routes to conversion is a key demand of the Russian-speaking community where many seek conversion to Judaism but are unwilling to adopt the ultra-Orthodox observance demanded by some parts of the Israeli rabbinate.

In addition, a government-agreed plan for a pluralistic prayer area at the Western Wall must be unfrozen and implemented, Liberman said.

“This minimum package is valid also today to anyone who is interested,” Liberman wrote.

Liberman stressed that he had published similar demands immediately after elections in September. A notable difference appeared to be that Liberman was no longer demanding that the ultra-Orthodox community implement the Education Ministry’s core curriculum, which has a focus on secular topics, in its own religious schools.

Channel 13 reported that ultra-Orthodox parties had asked Liberman to provide a final list of his demands after he said Thursday that had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu been willing to compromise on religion and state issues, he would have joined a right-wing government alongside the religious parties.

Liberman — who refused to join a Netanyahu government in May over disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties on the military draft law of ultra-Orthodox students — has been pushing for a unity government of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu.

“We are a step away from unnecessary third elections,” Liberman wrote Friday and repeated his call for unity government.

Orthodox Jews try to prevent a group of American Conservative and Reform rabbis, and the Women of the Wall movement members, from bringing Torah scrolls into the Western Wall compound, during a protest march against the government’s failure to deliver a new prayer space, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, November 2, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The Knesset now has a December 11 deadline for lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government, or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set, likely for March.

Since Likud’s Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz were unable to form a government following the September 17 election, there has been some speculation that another candidate, such as Likud’s MK Gideon Sa’ar or Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, would use the period until December 11 to gather the 61 signatures of MKs that would see them tasked with forming a coalition.

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