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  • Mitchell Israel

Shalom!

This is my final blog post at IRAC, as I leave to return home next week. What will await me when I return? I will be home for one full day, before leaving for my summer job, working as the Songleader at URJ Jacobs Camp in Mississippi. Jacobs Camp plays an important role, as for many of its campers, it is their only access to Judaism. During the year, many campers at Jacobs do not have Jewish communities, and may face prejudice or bullying, as being a Jew in the Deep South is not easy. Ironically, in Israel, it can sometimes be leaders of Jewish communities who are doing the bullying.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, can definitely be described as a bully. Not only is he prejudiced against Arab citizens of Israel, he has also attacked the country’s democratic institutions, more specifically the Supreme Court. Following a decision in 2015 to remove an illegally built synagogue, Rabbi Eliyahu made a statement telling people to “embitter the lives” of the Supreme Court Justices. In response to this and other incitement against Arabs, women, LGBT people, and Israel’s democratic institutions, IRAC has sent a letter to the court, demanding that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked do something. Shaked has chosen to be a bystander, letting Rabbi Eliyahu continue his incitement with little to no punishment.

It is important to stand up to bullying of all kinds. Be it the children I will work with this summer in the Deep South, who may have been bullied for being Jewish, or the unfair treatment of Israel in international organizations like the UN. Most importantly, it is necessary to stand up to the bullies within our own Jewish community, those who incite against those who practice Judaism differently than they do, or non-Jewish Israelis who have the same rights as those who are Jewish.

In my past few months at IRAC, I have watched our organization stand up to bullies many times. We have stood up to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on Kashrut, the discriminatory Avodah Ivrit website, and to the Israeli government wishing to deport asylum seekers. I have also witnessed our support for Rights on Flights, the possibility of a woman as Knesset Rabbi, and of Jafar Farah, an ally treated unfairly by police. As I leave this semester behind, I am so glad to have had the opportunity to intern for an organization on the front lines of the fight for equality in Israel.

L'hitraot,

Mitchell

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  • Mitchell Israel

Shalom!

In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to explore Israeli current events in the way that they relate to IRAC’s issues. As an American Jew living in Israel, my focus has been primarily on the issues of religious pluralism and gender discrimination, as these are the issues that I see most clearly living here. An issue I have not explored as much is the treatment of Arab citizens in Israel, and following last week’s arrest of protesters in Haifa, I felt the need to address the issue now.

Last Friday, Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center (an equal rights organization for Israeli Arabs) was arrested during a protest against the IDF’s actions in Gaza. Farah’s leg was broken while in police custody, and following his release, he declared his intent to sue the police for the damages caused to him. The arrest and subsequent injury of Farah could be an indicator of police brutality in Israel, an issue that is often in the spotlight in the US.

Israel and the US are both open societies, and allow for free expression of ideas through protest. In the US, there have been many protests over the past few years against police brutality, specifically the killings of unarmed black men. I have seen many different reactions to these protests, with some saying they are an expression of constitutional rights, while others claim that they are disturbing the peace. Even though I may not agree with what Farah and others are protesting for, I fully believe in their right to hold these protests.

IRAC has since responded to the treatment of Farah, and, together with 37 other organizations, they sent a letter to the Attorney General, demanding he investigate police action taken against Farah. IRAC has worked with the Mossawa Center in the past, as partners in our lawsuit against Avodah Ivrit. By supporting the investigation of police actions against Farah, IRAC is not only helping someone who has helped them, but also supporting his rights as an Arab Israeli citizen.

Following Jafar Farah’s release, his son Bassel was quoted saying, “The only democracy in the Middle East does not need to break the leg of a protester while he is under arrest”. Israel’s police must do better in responding to protests such as these. Fortunately, IRAC and other organizations are working to hold the police accountable.

Until next time,

Mitchell

  • Mitchell Israel

Shalom!

Last Friday night, I went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at Ramot Zion, the Masorti (Conservative) synagogue in French Hill. There, I met many wonderful people, both native Israelis and Olim, and prayed in a style I was familiar with, albeit not raised in. Ramot Zion has a woman rabbi, Chaya Baker, which I am not used to seeing, as my egalitarian worship experiences in Israel have been few and far between. As of recently, however, the soon to be vacant position of Knesset Rabbi can now be filled by a woman.

In this week’s edition of the Pluralist, IRAC sent a letter to the Knesset’s Director General and Legal Advisor because the initial job posting required a certificate of ordination from the Chief Rabbinate. As the Chief Rabbinate does not ordain women, IRAC chose to challenge this qualification on the grounds of discrimination. In a surprising turn of events, the Knesset Legal Advisor responded within a week, and the requirements were changed.

In most cases, sending a letter like this is the start of a process that can take months or even years to challenge. This inquiry was answered within a matter of days, as it was clear that there was discrimination in the process. The new requirements involve a Bachelor’s degree from a university, as well as a Kashrut certification from the Chief Rabbinate. Women can obtain both of these, making them eligible for the position.

Within the Orthodox movement, there are women who are ordained as Rabbis. Just last week, Dina Brawer was ordained as Britain’s first female Orthodox Rabbi. Rabba Brawer is just one of many women who have been ordained as Orthodox Rabbis, however it is difficult for them to be hired as clergy in the US and in Israel. This connects with the Knesset Rabbi decision, as the position should be open to all Israeli rabbis, regardless of gender or movement. Thanks to IRAC, female rabbis can apply for the position, and hopefully this is a step towards future inclusion of women in other rabbinic positions in Israel and around the world.

Until next time,

Mitchell

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