International Religious Freedom Report: Israel
Israel1 has no constitution; however, the law provides for freedom of worship, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion; however, there were problems with regard to equal treatment of religious minorities.
Relations among religious groups--between Jews and non-Jews, between Muslims and Christians, and among the different streams of Judaism--often were strained. Tensions between Israeli Jews and Arabs increased significantly after the start of the Intifada in October 2000. At that time, Israeli police killed 12 Israeli-Arab demonstrators, prompting a 3-year public inquiry and investigation, the results of which were still a matter of official deliberation and public debate at the end of the period covered by this report. Tensions continued to remain high due to the institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
Based on its pre-1967 borders, Israel has a total area of approximately 7,685 square miles, and its population is approximately 6.7 million (including Israeli settlers who live in the occupied territories). According to government figures, approximately 80 percent of the population is Jewish, although some 300,000 of these citizens do not qualify as Jews according to the Orthodox Jewish definition or that utilized by the Government in civil procedures. According to government figures, among the Jewish population, approximately 4.5 percent are Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, and another 13 percent are Orthodox. The vast majority of Jewish citizens describe themselves as "traditional" or "secular" Jews, and most of them observe some Jewish traditions. A growing but still small number of traditional and secular Jews associate themselves with the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist streams of Judaism, which are not officially recognized. Although the Government does not officially recognize them, these streams of Judaism receive a small amount of government funding and are recognized by the country's courts.
Approximately 20 percent of the population is non-Jewish. Of this group, approximately 80 percent is Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 10 percent Druze. The country's non-Jewish population is concentrated in the north of the country, in Bedouin communities in the Negev region in the south, and in a narrow band of Arab villages in the central part of the country adjacent to the occupied territories. There also are small numbers of evangelical Christians and members of Jehovah's Witnesses. The country's 250,000 guest workers are predominantly Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Buddhist.
The Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty describes the country as a "Jewish" and "democratic" state. Most of the non-Jewish minority are Muslims, Druze, and Christians, and they are generally free to practice their religions. Of this group, most are Arabs and are subject to various forms of discrimination, some of which have religious dimensions. Numerous religious groups are represented in the country.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
Israel has no constitution; however, the law provides for freedom of worship, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Declaration of Independence describes the country as a "Jewish state" but also provides for full social and political equality regardless of religious affiliation. Furthermore, the law explicitly guarantees freedom of religion and the safeguarding of "holy places of all religions." Israeli Arabs and other non-Jews generally are free to practice their religions; however, discrepancies exist in the treatment of various non-Jewish communities in society. Due to the "status quo" agreement reached at the founding of the state reflecting the influence of Orthodox Jewish political parties, the Government implements certain policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law. For example, the Government does not recognize Jewish marriages performed in the country other than those performed by the Orthodox Jewish establishment. The Orthodox Jewish establishment determines who can be buried in Jewish state cemeteries and limits that right to those accepted as "Jewish" by orthodox definitions. In addition the national airline El Al and public buses in most cities do not operate on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, although some private bus companies operate on the Sabbath. According to the law, Jews in most professions may not work on the Sabbath. Additionally, streets in some Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are closed to vehicles on the Sabbath. In April the High Court rejected a petition demanding that the Ministry of the Interior enforce the prohibition on the open sale of bread during the Passover holiday, but it did not rule on the legality of the prohibition. This prohibition does not apply to non-Jewish areas, where bread can be sold openly. In June 2003, the High Court suspended several municipal prohibitions and curbs on the sale of pork and issued guidelines suggesting that the sale of pork be allowed in neighborhoods where only a small portion of the residents would object on religious grounds. The result of the decision was to allow pork to be sold in those municipalities.
Israeli law recognizes the "religious communities" as carried over from those recognized under the British Mandate. These are: Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian-Catholic, Syrian (Catholic), Chaldean (Uniate), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Jewish. Three additional religious communities have subsequently been recognized-the Druze, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and the Baha'i. The status of some Christian denominations with representation in the country has been defined by a collection of ad hoc arrangements with various government agencies. The fact that the Muslim population was not defined as a religious community is a vestige of the Ottoman period, during which Islam was the dominant religion, and does not affect the rights of the Muslim community to practice their faith. The Government allows members of unrecognized religions the freedom to practice their religion. According to the Government, there were no religious denominations awaiting recognition during the period covered by this report.
Each recognized religious community has legal authority over its members in matters of marriage and divorce. For so-called "unrecognized religions," there were no local religious tribunals that had jurisdiction over their members in matters of personal status. In addition unrecognized religious communities would not receive government funding for their religious services, as many of the recognized communities do. Also, the Arrangements Law provides exemption from municipal taxes for any synagogue, church, mosque, or place of worship of a recognized faith. Finally, unrecognized religions have no religious tribunals with jurisdiction over their members in matters of personal status. Legislation enacted in 1961 afforded the Muslim courts exclusive jurisdiction to rule in matters of personal status concerning Muslims. Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may bring cases to religious courts. Jewish and Druze families may ask for some family status matters, such as alimony and child custody in divorces, to be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Christians may ask only that child custody and child support be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Despite not having legal recognition, since 2001 Muslims also have the right to bring matters such as alimony and property division associated with divorce cases to civil courts in family-status matters. However, paternity cases remain under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Muslim or Shari'a Court.
In March the Ministry of Religious Affairs was officially dismantled and its 300 employees reassigned to several other ministries. The Ministry was disbanded based on a compromise agreement with the Shinui party as part of its decision to join the Government. The Interior Ministry now has jurisdiction over religious matters concerning non-Jewish groups. The Prime Minister's office has jurisdiction over the nation's 137 religious councils, which oversee the provision of religious services. The Ministry of Tourism is now responsible for the protection and upkeep of all holy sites. The State continues to finance some 40 percent of the councils' budgets, and local authorities fund the remainder. However, an Arab advocacy group charged that, for the most part, the State did not allocate adequate or proportional funds for the provision of religious services in Arab towns and villages. According to the Government, however, funding for religious services in Arab communities has been proportional to the size of the community.
A reportedly small number of IDF soldiers killed in action since September 2000 were Muslim, Druze, and Israeli Arab Christians. After the family of one of the soldiers could not find a Muslim cleric to perform his burial, public debate ensued over the fact that the IDF does not employ a Muslim or a Christian chaplain. By the end of the period covered by this report, the IDF had not designated a Muslim or Christian cleric to serve as IDF chaplain. In 2003, an Israeli Christian soldier was killed in a terrorist attack. According to the soldier's family, the IDF did not have a military priest available to officiate at their son's burial. The soldier was buried in a non-Jewish section of the military cemetery in a nonreligious ceremony without a religious figure to officiate. Muslim and Christian soldiers are allowed to take home leave for all religious holidays.
Under the Law of Return, the Government grants automatic citizenship and residence rights to Jewish immigrants and their families. Based on a 2000 decision made by the Attorney General, residency rights are not granted to relatives of converts to Judaism, except to children of female converts who are born after the mother's conversion is complete. The Law of Return does not apply to non-Jews or to persons of Jewish descent who have converted to another faith. Approximately 36 percent of the country's Jewish population was born outside of the country. Until 2002 the Government designated "nationality" (i.e., Arab, Russian, or "Jew," etc.) on national identity documents. Groups representing persons who consider themselves Jewish, but who do not meet the Interior Ministry's criteria, have long sought either a change in the rules or removal of the nationality designation from identity cards, a move also supported by many Arab groups. In 2003, the Government began issuing new identification cards that do not carry a nationality designation to those seeking new or replacement national identity documents. However, citizens are still required to register as one of a set list of nationalities.
Under existing law, ultra-Orthodox Jews are entitled to exemption from military service to pursue religious or yeshiva studies. This exemption allows ultra-Orthodox Jews to postpone military service to pursue religious studies at a recognized yeshiva in 1-year intervals. Students must renew this postponement every year by proving that they are still full-time students. At the age of 22, these yeshiva students must determine within 1 year whether to continue to study full time with yearly renewals until they reach the age of 40, to serve for 1 year in community service and thereafter perform community service for 21 days each year, or to serve in the army until they finish their military service requirement. According to the Government, approximately 9 percent of male candidates for military service are exempted under the clause that allows them to declare they are full-time yeshiva students. In February, due to political pressure from the secular Shinui party and some sectors of society, the Government appointed a parliamentary committee to propose ways to broaden IDF service to include yeshiva students and to integrate ultra-Orthodox Jews into the workforce. At the end of the period covered by this report, the committee had reached no conclusions and continued to discuss this issue.
The Government funds both religious and secular schools, including non-Jewish religious and secular schools. Some secular Jewish schools have adopted a religious education program developed by the non-Orthodox streams. According to Arab advocacy nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), schools in Arab areas, including Arab parochial schools, receive significantly fewer resources than comparable Jewish schools.
The Government recognizes the following Jewish holy days as national holidays: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shavuot, Simhat Torah, and Passover. Arab municipalities often recognize Christian and Muslim holidays.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious authorities have exclusive control over personal status matters, including marriage, divorce, and burial, within their respective communities. The law does not allow for civil marriage for any citizens, and it does not recognize Jewish marriage performed in the country unless performed by recognized Orthodox officials. Many Jewish citizens object to such exclusive control, and it has at times been a source of serious controversy in society.
The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law protects holy sites of all religions within Israel, and the penal code makes it a criminal offense to damage any holy site. According to the Government, there were no claims or reports of damage to holy sites within Israel during the period covered by this report.
The Government permits religious organizations to apply for funding to maintain or build holy sites, and funding has been provided for the upkeep of holy sites such as mosques and cemeteries. Some civil rights NGOs assert that Orthodox Jewish holy sites receive significantly greater proportions of funding than do non-Orthodox Jewish and non-Jewish holy sites. Muslim groups complain that the Government has not equitably funded the construction and upkeep of mosques in comparison to the funding of synagogues, and that it has been reluctant to refurbish mosques in areas where there is no longer a Muslim population. Muslim residents of the Be'er Sheva area, including Bedouin tribes, have protested the municipality's intention to reopen the city's old mosque as a museum rather than as a mosque to service the area's Muslim residents. According to a media report, the High Court rejected a petition from representatives of the area's Muslim community to enjoin the municipality from renovating the mosque into a museum. The High Court noted that the renovation would not harm the facility's design and would affect only the facade. The petitioners argued that there were no alternative mosques in the Be'er Sheva area.
Building codes for places of worship are enforced selectively based on religion. Some Bedouins living in unrecognized villages were denied building permits for construction of mosques. For example, in 2002 a local Bedouin began construction without a permit of a mosque in the village of Tal el-Malah in the southern part of the country to service the 1,500 residents who would otherwise need to travel more than 12 kilometers to the nearest mosque. In February 2003, the Government inspector warned the village that the building was illegal, and in May 2003 officials demolished the building. In contrast, according to a Tel Aviv municipal council member, there are approximately 100 illegal synagogues in Tel Aviv, some within apartment buildings and others in separate structures.
A 1977 anti-proselytizing law prohibits any person from offering or receiving material benefits as an inducement to conversion; however, there were no reports of the law's enforcement during the period covered by this report.
Missionaries are allowed to proselytize, although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) voluntarily refrains from proselytizing under a signed agreement with the Government.
Since 2000, the Government no longer requires Israeli Muslims to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to Saudi Arabia on the hajj. Since the country does not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Israeli Muslims must travel through another country, usually Jordan, to obtain travel documents for Saudi Arabia. The average number of pilgrims traveling from the country each year is approximately 4,500. According to the Government, travel to hostile countries may be restricted, including travel for the hajj; however, these restrictions are based on security concerns rather than on any religious or ethnic factors.
During the period covered by this report, many groups and individuals of numerous religions traveled to the country freely; there were no reports of persons being denied entry based on religious grounds.
During the period covered by this report, the Government refused to grant residence visas to some 130 Catholic clergy assigned by the Vatican to fulfill religious obligations in Israel and the occupied territories. According to church officials, this number represents a 60 percent increase over the previous year. The Interior Ministry appointed a task force to resolve the issue and explained in the media that the delay in issuing visas was mainly due to the examination by the Israel Security Agency of certain applications for security purposes, thus causing an application backlog. A church official also claimed that security forces harassed several clergy. Also, during the period covered by this report, a Greek Catholic pastor, Father Mamdouh Abu Sa'da, was prevented from driving his car for several months from his residence in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour to celebrate Mass in Jaffa, despite the fact that he had been driving in the country during the past 7 years.
In January the Government recognized the duly elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Eirinaios I, but this recognition was delayed until March, when the High Court rejected a legal challenge against the Government's decision. Eirinaios I was elected in 2001, but because of the lack of recognition by the Government, he had been unable to conclude financial or legal arrangements on behalf of the Patriarchate.
In 2002, the Israeli police confiscated the passport of Archimandrite Attallah Hanna, an Israeli citizen and a priest with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, for allegedly visiting Lebanon, a country considered hostile to Israel, without permission from the Interior Ministry and for making public statements hostile toward Israel while in that country. The case against Hanna was closed in January after Hanna signed a declaration renouncing terrorism; however, Hanna was told he needed to reapply for a new passport.
The Government discriminates against non-Jews, the vast majority of which are Arabs, in the areas of employment, education, and housing. The Orr Legal Commission of Inquiry, established to investigate the 2000 police killing of 12 Israeli-Arab demonstrators, issued a final report in September 2003 noting historical, societal, and governmental discrimination against Arab citizens. In June the Government approved an interministerial committee's proposals, which included the creation of a government body to promote the Arab sector and a volunteer national civilian service program for Arab youth. These proposals were approved in attempt to address some of the Orr Commission's recommendations; however, Israeli-Arab advocacy organizations continued to criticize the Government for its failure after 4 years to indict any of the policemen involved in the 2000 events and its continued neglect of other issues of importance to the Israeli-Arab community, such as the just distribution of resources.
In civic areas in which religion is a determining criterion, such as the religious courts and centers of education, non-Orthodox Jewish institutions routinely receive less state support than their Orthodox Jewish counterparts. Additionally, National Religious (i.e., modern Orthodox, one of the country's official Jewish school systems) and Christian parochial schools complain that they receive less funding than public secular schools despite the fact that they voluntarily abide by all national curricular standards. During the period covered by this report, the two groups together took their case for equal funding to the High Court. At the end of this period, there was no decision on the case.
Government funding to the different religious sectors is disproportionate to the sectors' sizes. Non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and the non-Jewish sectors receive proportionally less funding than the Orthodox Jewish sector. According to IRAC, the equivalent of less than 1 percent of public funding for Jewish cultural activities is provided to non-Orthodox or secular organizations, and over 99 percent of the funding goes to Orthodox Jewish organizations. IRAC reports that government funding has not gone into the construction of any non-Orthodox synagogues. In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled that state funds could be used for the construction of a reform synagogue in the city of Modi'in and referred the petition to the Modi'in municipality for action. IRAC reports that the city already has several Orthodox synagogues, but none that is conservative or reform.
Government resources available to non-Orthodox Jewish and Arab public schools are proportionately less than those available to Orthodox Jewish public schools. According IRAC, about 96 percent of state funds for religious education were allocated to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. Children attending public non-Orthodox Jewish schools do not receive instruction on Judaism, and the budget for teaching Islam or Christianity in the Arab public school system is disproportionately smaller. Quality private religious schools for Israeli Arabs exist; however, parents often must pay tuition for their children to attend such schools due to inadequate government funding. Jewish private religious schools receive significant government funding in addition to philanthropic contributions from within the country and abroad, which effectively lowers the schools' tuition costs. Non-Jewish Israelis are underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in the higher level professional and business ranks.
In 1998, the High Court of Justice ruled that the budget allocation to the non-Jewish sector constituted "prima facie" discrimination. In 2000, the same plaintiffs presented a case on the specific needs of religious communities regarding burials. The court agreed that non-Jewish cemeteries were receiving inadequate resources and ordered the Government to increase funding to such cemeteries. The Government began to implement this decision in 2001, although some groups complained that implementation was too slow. According to the Government, in 2003 approximately $1.7 million was allocated for Orthodox Jewish Cemeteries, compared with approximately $200,000 for civil cemeteries.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) owns approximately 8 percent of the country's land area and manages another 8 percent on behalf of the Government. The JNF's charter prohibits it from leasing land to non-Jews. The Jewish Agency, an organization that promotes Jewish immigration to the country and develops housing communities, as a matter of policy does not lease land to non-Jews. In 2000, the High Court ruled that the State may not allocate land directly to its citizens on the basis of religion or nationality, even if it allocates the land through a third party such as the Jewish Agency. The Court's decision applies to any third party that has such restrictions on the leasing or sale of land based on nationality, religion, or any other discriminatory means.
Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but by mutual agreement, parties may bring inheritance cases to religious courts. Jewish and Druze families may ask that some family status matters, such as alimony and child custody, be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Christians may ask that child custody and child support cases be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Since 2001, Muslims have had the right to bring matters such as alimony and property division associated with divorce cases to civil courts in family status cases. However, paternity cases involving Muslims are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Muslim or Shari'a court.
Jewish citizens who wish to marry in secular or non-Orthodox religious ceremonies, citizens not officially recognized as Jewish by the Orthodox Jewish establishment, and those who wish to marry someone of another faith must do so abroad. The Ministry of Interior recognizes such marriages. According to media reports, an average of 5,000 couples travel abroad annually to be married in civil ceremonies, mostly in Cyprus. Others hold weddings unrecognized by the Government, including Kibbutz, Reform, and Conservative weddings. In March a majority of the Knesset (parliament) voted against two bills that would have allowed for civil marriage.
The State also does not recognize conversions to Judaism performed in the country by non-Orthodox rabbis. The High Court allowed this practice to stand when it avoided ruling on this issue in May; however, the court ruled that non-Jews who move to the country and then convert in the country through an Orthodox conversion are eligible to become immigrants pursuant to the Law of Return. Previously, only persons who converted through an Orthodox conversion abroad were entitled to immigrate to the country based on that law.
Many Jewish citizens object to the exclusive authority of the Orthodox establishment over personal status issues for Jews, and it has been at times a source of serious controversy in society, particularly in recent years, because some 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union have not been recognized as Jewish by Orthodox authorities. Aside from the ability to marry, this affects whether an individual is entitled to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The 1996 Alternative Burial Law established the individual right to be buried in an alternative, civil cemetery and called for establishment of these cemeteries throughout the country. However, at the end of the period covered by this report, only one public civil cemetery had been established in the country. Some domestic civil rights and immigrant groups assert that the Government has not allocated adequate space or sufficient funds for the development of alternative burial sites.
The Shinui Party, which ran on a platform of ending much of the Orthodox establishment's exclusive power, remained part of the governing coalition formed in early 2003 and retained control over the Ministries of Interior and Justice. Shinui leaders have stated that the party plans significant reforms to personal status and other questions handled by the ministries under its purview.
Under the Jewish religious courts' interpretation of personal status law, a Jewish woman may not receive a final writ of divorce without her husband's consent. Consequently, thousands of women, so-called "agunot," are unable to remarry or have legitimate children because their husbands either have disappeared or refused to grant a divorce.
Rabbinical tribunals have the authority to impose sanctions on husbands who refuse to divorce their wives or on wives who refuse to accept a divorce from their husbands. At least one man, a U.S. citizen, had been in jail for over 2 years because he refused to grant his wife a writ of divorce. He was released approximately 1 year ago. In some cases, rabbinical courts have failed to invoke sanctions. In May, a rabbinical court decided for the first time to jail a woman who refused to accept a divorce from her husband. Rabbinical courts also may exercise jurisdiction over, and issue sanctions against, non-Israeli persons present in the country.
Some Islamic law courts have held that Muslim women may not request a divorce, but that women may be forced to consent if a divorce is granted to the husband.
Members of unrecognized religious groups (particularly evangelical Christians) sometimes also face the same problems obtaining marriage certificates or burial services as do citizens not considered Jewish by the Orthodox establishment. However, informal arrangements with other recognized religious groups provide relief in some cases.
In 2003, the Women of the Wall, a group of more than 100 Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform women, lost their 14-year legal battle to hold formal women's prayer services at the Western Wall. The High Court ruled that the group could not hold prayer services at the Western Wall and instead would be permitted to hold them at nearby Robinson's Arch. According to IRAC, the Government has yet to finish renovating that area to allow these women to hold prayers there. Most Orthodox Jews believe that mixed gender prayer services violate the precepts of Judaism, and Jews still are unable to hold mixed gender prayer services at the Western Wall. Women also are not allowed to conduct any formal or informal prayer at the Western Wall wearing prayer shawls, which are typically worn by men, and cannot read from Torah scrolls.
In December 2003, IRAC petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the government practice whereby the Adoption Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs places Israeli non-Jewish children only in Orthodox Jewish homes. Pursuant to law, the adopted child must be of the same religion as the adopting parents. Since conversions to non-Orthodox forms of Judaism are not recognized in the country, the Government argued that by placing these children with Orthodox parents, the children would not face any limbo periods during which their conversions could be questioned.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Abuses by Terrorist Organizations
Palestinian terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, committed acts of terror against Israelis during the period covered by this report. These attacks included an August 2003 attack by Hamas that killed 23 persons and injured over 130, an October 2003 attack by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that killed 21 persons and injured 60, and a March attack by Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade that killed 10 persons and injured 16. These groups also issued anti-Semitic statements following these attacks.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Relations among different religious groups--between Jews and non-Jews, between Christians and Muslims, and among the different streams of Judaism--often are strained. Tensions between Jews and non-Jews are the result of historical grievances as well as cultural and religious differences, and they are compounded by governmental and societal discrimination against Israeli-Arabs. These tensions have been heightened by the Arab-Israeli conflict, manifested by terrorist attacks mostly against Israeli Jews, IDF operations in the occupied territories, incidents of Jewish militants targeting Israeli Arabs, and incidents of Israeli-Arab involvement in terrorist activity.
According to a University of Haifa survey released in June, approximately 64 percent of the Jewish public believes the Government should encourage Israeli Arabs to emigrate from the country, with 55 percent believing that Israeli Arabs present a threat to national security. Similar surveys also have revealed a continuing increase in distrust between Israeli Jews and Arabs.
A number of NGOs exist that are dedicated to promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence in the country. Their programs include events to increase Jewish-Arab dialogue and cooperation. These groups and events have had varying degrees of success. Interfaith dialogue often is linked to the peace process between the country and its Arab neighbors. In January Canon Andrew White, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Special Representative to the Alexandria Peace Process, convened approximately 30 high-level Palestinian religious leaders and Israeli religious representatives in Cairo to discuss advancing the Alexandria Interfaith Peace Process, which was initiated in 2002 at an interfaith summit in Egypt.
Animosity between secular and religious Jews continued during the period covered by this report. Non-Orthodox Jews have complained of discrimination and intolerance on the part of members of ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups. Persons who consider themselves Jewish but who are not considered Jewish under Orthodox law particularly complained of discrimination. During the period covered by this report, there were reported incidents in Jerusalem in which ultra-Orthodox Jews threw rocks at passing motorists to protest that they were driving on the Sabbath.
Numerous NGOs exist that seek to build understanding and create dialogue between religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities. These NGOs include the Gesher Foundation (Hebrew for "bridge"); Meitarim, which operates a pluralistic Jewish-oriented school system; and the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, which promotes interfaith dialogue with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian institutions.
Throughout society attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion generally are negative. Many Jews are opposed to missionary activity directed at Jews, and some are hostile toward Jewish converts to Christianity. Christian and Muslim Israeli-Arab religious leaders complain that missionary activity that leads to conversions frequently disrupts family coherence in their communities.
During the period covered by this report, mainstream newspapers periodically criticized the country's ultra-Orthodox or "Haredi" community for yeshiva students' exemption from military service and the Government's provision of living allowances to these students in lieu of their working. In February, due to political and societal pressures, the Government appointed a parliamentary committee to investigate ways to broaden military service to include yeshiva students. At the end of the period covered by this report, the committee was working on a compromise measure to address this issue.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy consistently raised issues of religious freedom with the Foreign Ministry, the police, the Prime Minister's office, and other government agencies. In meetings with government officials, the Embassy and U.S. State Department officials in Washington continued to raise concern about the denial of some U.S. citizens' entry into the country based on ethnic and religious background.
Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, routinely meet with religious officials. These contacts include meetings with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze, and Baha'i leaders at a variety of levels. In August 2003, Embassy officials met with a group of Knesset members from the secular Shinui party to discuss issues of concern to more-secular Israelis, including the issue of Orthodox Jewish religious control over marriages and burials.
In November 2003, the Embassy hosted an Iftaar dinner to commemorate the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, inviting over 80 Israeli Muslim representatives from the political, economic, legal, religious, and business communities, and also representatives of interfaith organizations. The dinner promoted understanding and cooperation between Jews, Muslims, and Christians and enhanced U.S. understanding of issues affecting these religious communities in the country.
In March the Ambassador met with Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who played a vital role in the Alexandria Declaration of 2002 and the "Alexandria Process" that has followed. Lord Carey, accompanied by a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a senior delegation of Christian leaders from the United States, discussed with Embassy officials and Israeli, Palestinian, and international figures ways to promote the implementation of the commitments senior Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders had made in Alexandria to reduce violence, teach tolerance in religious educational settings, and promote interfaith dialogue in support of the peace process.
Embassy officials maintain a dialogue with NGOs that follow human and civil rights issues, including religious freedom. These NGOs include the Arab Association for Human Rights, the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, Adalah, and others. In April the Embassy met with the director of the Arab Association for Human Rights to discuss issues of concern to the Israeli-Arab community, including societal tensions between Arabs and Jews in the country.
Embassy representatives attended and spoke at meetings of groups seeking to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance and also met with Israeli-Arab organizations, including Adalah and the Islamic Movement-Northern Branch, to discuss religious freedom issues. The Embassy provided small grants to local organizations promoting interfaith dialogue and coexistence and to organizations examining the role of religion in resolving conflict.
Source: U.S. Department of State, 2004 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Washington, DC, (September 15, 2004)