Israel 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 reporting period, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion; however, problems continued to exist stemming from the unequal treatment of religious minorities, and from the State's recognition of only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jews. Relations among religious groups—between Jews and non-Jews, between Muslims and Christians, between secular and religious Jews, 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 2000 when Israeli police killed 12 Israeli-Arab demonstrators, prompting a 3-year public inquiry and investigation. The Orr Commission of Inquiry established to investigate the killings, found certain police officers guilty of wrongdoing, and concluded that the "Government's handling of the Arab sector has been primarily neglectful and discriminatory," that it"did not show sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the Arab population, and did not take enough action to allocate state resources in an equal manner." The results of the inquiry were still a matter of official deliberation and public debate at the end of the reporting period. While the Government has taken several steps to address these issues, tensions remained high due to 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 an area of approximately 7,685 square miles, and its population is approximately 6.8 million, of which 5.2 million are Jews (including Israeli settlers who live in the occupied territories), 1.3 million are Arabs, and approximately 290,000 are members of other minorities. Although the Government defines nearly 80 percent of the population as Jewish, approximately 300,000 of these citizens do not qualify as Jews according to the Orthodox Jewish definition or the definition used by the Government forcivil procedures. According to government figures, approximately 4.5 percent of the Jewish population are Haredim, 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 for purposes of civil and personal status matters involving their adherents. 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.
Numerous religious groups are represented in the country. Slightly more than 20 percent of the population is non-Jewish and the vast majority of them are ethnically Arab. Of this, approximately 80 percent is Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 10 percent Druze. The non-Jewish populations areconcentrated in the north, in Bedouin communities in the Negev region to the south, and in the narrow band of Arab villages in the central part of the country adjacent to the occupied territories. Relatively small communities of evangelical Christians, Messianic Jews (those who consider themselves Jewish but believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah), and Jehovah's Witnesses also reside throughout the country. In an April 2005 media report, a leader of the Jewish Messianic community estimated that Messianic Jews in Israel number approximately 10,000 persons. Media sources also indicate that the number of Messianic Jews in Israel has grown rapidly over the past decade, with many new adherents coming from the Russian immigrant community.
The Government reported that approximately 60,000 to 70,000 legal foreign workers live in Israel, but Kav La Oved (Workers Hotline), an Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO) advocating for workers' rights, places the number closer to 100,000 and estimates that the inclusion of illegal foreign workers brings the total number of foreign workers to approximately 200,000. Most of the foreign workers are Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu.
The Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty describes the country as a "Jewish" and "democratic" state. Most members of the non-Jewish minority are generally free to practice their religions but are subject to various forms of discrimination, some of which have religious dimensions.
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. While the law explicitly guarantees freedom of religion and the safeguarding of "holy places of all religions," inequities exist. Israeli Arabs and other non-Jews generally are free to practice their religions; however, discrepancies in treatment exist between Jews and various non-Jewish communities, and between Orthodox Jews and Jews of non-Orthodox affiliations.
The "status quo" agreement reached at the founding of the state, and that has been upheld throughout the State's history, guarantees the Government will implement certain policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law. For example, the Government does not recognize Jewish marriages performed in the country unless they are performed by the Orthodox Jewish establishment. The Orthodox Jewish establishment also determines who is buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered "Jewish" by the Orthodox standards. In addition, the national airline El Al and public buses in most cities do not operate on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath; however, several private bus companies do. Additionally, streets in most Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are closed to vehicles on the Sabbath. According to the Law on Work and Rest Hours of 1951, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in April 2005, Jews in most professions are prohibited from working on the Sabbath unless they are granted a special permit by the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Employment.
In April 2004, the High Court rejected a petition demanding that the Ministry of the Interior enforce the prohibition on the public display of leavened products for sale during the Passover holiday, but it did not rule on the legality of the prohibition. Then, in March 2005, following the Interior Minister's announcement that he would not enforce the prohibition, Prime Minister Sharon reportedly instructed the Minister to enforce the prohibition. In recent practice, however, the Government has not enforced this law. There were no reports of its enforcement during the reporting period. In regions inhabited primarily by non-Jews, bread is displayed and sold openly during Passover.
In 2003, the High Court suspended several municipal prohibitions and curbs on the sale of pork and instructed municipalities to allow sales of pork in neighborhoods where no more than an unspecified, small portion of the residents would object on religious grounds. The result of the decision was to allow each municipality to determine on its own whether to allow the sale of pork.
The law recognizes as "religious communities" those recognized by and carried over from the British Mandate. These include: Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian-Catholic, Syrian (Catholic), Chaldean (Uniate), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Jewish. Since the founding of the country, the Government has recognized three additional religious communities—the Druze in 1957, the Evangelical Episcopal Church in 1970, and the Baha'i in 1971. The status of several 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 was a vestige of the Ottoman period, where 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 reporting period.
With some exceptions, each recognized religious community has legal authority over its members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial. Legislation enacted in 1961 afforded the Muslim courts exclusive jurisdiction to rule in matters of personal status concerning Muslims. For so-called "unrecognized religions," no local religious tribunals exercised jurisdiction over their members in matters of personal status. In addition, unlike recognized religious communities, unrecognized religious communities do not receive government funding for their religious services. The Arrangements Law provides exemption from municipal taxes for any place of worship of a recognized faith. Exemption from tax payments is also granted to churches that have not been officially recognized by law. In several cases, the Government has interpreted that exemption from municipal taxes to apply only to that portion of the property of religious organizations that was actually used for religious worship. Not-for-profit religious schools also receive tax exemptions. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) had tax-exemption status for its hospital on The Mount of Olives for more than 30 years until the District Court revoked this privilege in 2002. After several rescheduled hearings, the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear LWF's case for tax exemption on December 1, 2005.
Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may bring such 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 that child custody and child support cases be adjudicated in civil courts rather than in religious courts. Muslims 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. There is no overarching law or directive that prescribes these varying approaches.
In March 2004, the Ministry of Religious Affairs was officially dismantled and its 300 employees reassigned to several other ministries. As a result, the Ministry of the Interior now has jurisdiction over religious matters concerning non-Jewish groups; the Ministry of Tourism is responsible for the protection and upkeep of all holy sites, and the Prime Minister's office has jurisdiction over the nation's 134 religious councils (one Druze and the rest Jewish) that oversee the provision of religious services to their respective communities. Legislation establishing religious councils does not include non-Jewish religious communities other than the Druze. Instead, the Ministry of the Interior directly funds religious services for recognized non-Jewish communities. The State, through the Prime Minister's office, continues to finance approximately 40 percent of the religious councils' budgets, and local authorities fund the remainder.
According to government budget figures, the Prime Minister's Office transferred approximately $30 million for religious councils in 2004 and local authorities were supposed to transfer $47 million (NIS 214, 926, 720) to the religious councils as well. The Government also transferred an additional estimated $15.5 million (NIS 71 million) in a one-time move to the religious councils pursuant to a court ruling. Together, the religious councils' budget for 2004 was approximately $92.5 million. The Government reported that the 2005 religious services budget for the non-Jewish communities including the Druze (it did not provide 2004 figures) totaled approximately $6.5 million.
Arab advocacy groups continue to charge that the State did not allocate adequate or proportional funds for the provision of religious services in Arab towns and villages. A reputable representative of the Arab Christian community criticized the Government in April 2005 for not allocating enough funds for Christian institutions. The Government claimed, however, that funding for religious services in Arab communities has been proportional to the size of the community.
Under the Law of Return, the Government grants immigration and residence rights to individuals who meet established criteria defining Jewish identity. Included in this definition is a child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew. A separate, more rigorous standard based on Orthodox Jewish criteria is used to determine the right to full citizenship, entitlement to government financial support for immigrants, the legitimacy of conversions to Judaism performed within the country, and Jewish status for purposes of personal and some civil status issues. Residency rights are not granted to relatives of converts to Judaism, except for 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.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has charged that the Ministry of the Interior's Population Registry has subjected non-Jewish spouses and non-Jewish adopted children of Jewish immigrants to unfair and at times arbitrary policies for proving the bona fides of their relationship for residency purposes. Most of these cases involve persons who immigrated under the Law of Return from the former Soviet republics and their non-Jewish spouses and non-Jewish adopted children. In August 2004, the Minister of the Interior acknowledged the problems and took steps to change certain policies. For example, in August 2004, the Minister of Interior announced that he was canceling his ministry's requirement that immigrants from the former Soviet republics deposit a $7,000 (30,000-shekel) bank guarantee before allowing their non-Jewish spouses to enter the country. The deposit was to be returned once the spouse was granted residency.
In 2003, the Government began issuing new and replacement identification cards that do not carry a "nationality" (e.g., usually religious) designation. Citizens and residents are still required to register with the Ministry of the Interior's Population Registry as one of a set list of nationalities. During the period covered by this report, the Ministry of the Interior issued to individuals arriving in the country immigration forms with an item for travelers to list their religion. Immigration officials were inconsistent in seeking compliance, and the form has since been amended to omit any questions on religious affiliation.
Under the law, ultra-Orthodox Jews are entitled to exemption from military service to pursue religious studies. This exemption allows ultra-Orthodox Jews to postpone military service in 1 year intervals to pursue full-time religious studies at recognized yeshivas, or religious schools. These students must renew their deferments each year by proving that they are full-time students. At the age of 22, the yeshiva students are given 1 year to decide whether to continue to study full time with yearly renewals until they reach the age of 40; to perform community service for one year, and thereafter, 21 days each year until the age of 40; or to serve in the army until they finish their military service requirement. According to the Government, approximately 9 percent of all male candidates for military service are exempted as full-time yeshiva students. In February 2004, 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 military service to include yeshiva students and to integrate ultra-Orthodox Jews into the workforce. At the end of the reporting period, the committee had not issued its recommendations.
Public Hebrew-speaking secular schools teach mandatory Bible and Jewish history classes. These classes primarily cover Jewish heritage and culture, rather than religious belief. Public schools with predominantly Arab student bodies teach mandatory classes on the Qur'an and the Bible, since both Muslim and Christian Arabs attend these schools. Orthodox Jewish religious schools that are part of the public school system teach mandatory religion classes, as do private ultra-Orthodox schools that receive some state funding.
The Government recognizes the following Jewish holy days as national holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simhat Torah, Passover, and Shavuot. Arab municipalities often recognize Christian and Muslim holidays.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Muslim, Christian, and Orthodox Jewish religious authorities have exclusive control over personal status matters, including marriage, divorce, and burial, within their respective communities. The law does not allow civil marriage, and it does not recognize Jewish marriage performed in the country unless performed by recognized Orthodox rabbis. Many Jewish Israelis object to such exclusive control by the Orthodox establishment over Jewish marriages and other personal status issues, and to the absence of provision for civil marriage, for approximately 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union were not recognized as Jewish by Orthodox authorities.
The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law applies to holy sites of all religions within Israel, and the Penal Code makes it a criminal offense to damage any holy site. The Government, however, has issued implementing regulations only for Jewish sites. In November 2004, the Arab Israeli advocacy group Adalah petitioned the High Court to compel the Government to issue regulations to protect Muslim sites, charging that the Government's failure to do so had resulted in desecration and the conversion of several sites into commercial establishments. In its petition, Adalah stated that all of the 120 places designated by the Government as holy sites are Jewish. At the end of the reporting period, the case was still pending. The Arab Association for Human Rights (AAHR) issued a comprehensive report in December 2004 documenting what it refers to as the "destruction and abuse of Muslim and Christian holy places in Israel." In its report, AAHR asserted that 250 non-Jewish places of worship had either been destroyed during and after the 1948 war or made inaccessible to the local Arab population. Lands of destroyed Arab villages were given to Jewish farmers, and the surviving mosques in these villages had been used as animal pens or storage depots. In a town south of Haifa, Ein Hod, the mosque was turned into a bar. The Government stated that in March 2004, there was a fire in an abandoned mosque in Beit She'an, resulting in a collapse of the structure. Beyond this incident, there were no reports of damage to holy sites during the reporting period.
During Jewish holidays and following terrorist attacks, the Government imposed internal and external closures for security purposes that had the effect of restricting access to holy sites in the country for Arab Muslims and Christians, as well as Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who possess Jerusalem identification cards. The construction of the separation barrier also impeded access to holy sites in Jerusalem during the reporting period.
The Government permits religious organizations to apply for state funding to maintain or build religious facilities. Funding has been provided for the maintenance of facilities such as churches, Orthodox synagogues, mosques, and cemeteries. Funding for construction has not been provided for non-Orthodox synagogues. Several civil rights NGOs assert that Orthodox Jewish facilities receive significantly greater proportions of funding than do non-Orthodox Jewish and non-Jewish facilities. Muslim groups complain that the Government has not equitably funded the construction and maintenance of mosques in comparison to the funding of synagogues. AAHR reported that the Government was reluctant to refurbish mosques in areas where there is no longer a Muslim population, and has never in its history budgeted for the building of a new mosque. The Government stated that the AAHR report referred to abandoned sites and not to active sites, and the abandoned sites were not properly maintained. There is no restriction on the construction of new mosques in Israel, but the Government noted that while the state budget does not cover the costs of new construction, it does provide assistance in the maintenance of mosques. The Government cited examples of mosques that received government assistance for their maintenance in 2004, including mosques in Romana, Bartaa, Baana, Daburiya, Bir al Maksur, Bustan Almarge, Maala Iron, Hualad, and Hura, which altogether received approximately $313,000 (NIS 1,420,000).
Muslim residents of the Be'er Sheva area, including members of Bedouin tribes, have protested the municipality's intention to reopen the city's old mosque as a museum rather than as a mosque for the area's Muslim residents. The High Court rejected a petition from Adalah, representing the area's Muslim community, to enjoin the municipality from renovating the mosque into a museum. The petitioners argued that there were no alternative mosques in the Be'er Sheva area. In January 2005, the High Court issued an interim opinion suggesting that the mosque be used as an Islamic cultural and social center by the Muslim community of Be'er Sheva, but not for prayer. In February 2005, the municipality issued a response rejecting this suggestion, and insisting that the mosque be opened as a museum. According to Adalah, the Attorney General also submitted a response to the High Court supporting the Be'er Sheva Municipality's position that the building not be used as an Islamic Cultural Center. The case was pending at the end of the reporting period.
Building codes for places of worship are enforced selectively based on religion. Several Bedouin living in unrecognized villages were denied building permits for construction of mosques, and in the past, the Government has destroyed mosques built in unrecognized Bedouin communities. In 2003, Government officials demolished a mosque serving approximately 1,500 residents in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Tel al-Maleh that was constructed without a permit. According to the Regional Council for the Arab Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, in 2003 and 2004, the Government issued demolition orders for three mosques in Um al-Hiran, al-Dhiyya, and Tel al-Maleh respectively; all three were unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and built without the proper permits. The Regional Planning and Building Committee in the Negev stated that it was unaware that the building marked for demolition in al-Dhiyya was a mosque. By the end of the reporting period, the demolition orders still stood. In Um al-Hiran, the Government had issued orders to demolish the mosque and the villagers have been fined approximately $7,000 (NIS 30,000) for building the structure without a permit. The Tel al-Maleh case was transferred to a lower court for review and the case was pending. In contrast, according to a former Tel Aviv municipal council member, in recent years approximately 100 illegal synagogues have operated 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. No reports exist of attempts to enforce the law during the reporting period.
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.
The Knesset has not yet ratified the Fundamental Agreement establishing relations between the Holy See and Israel that was negotiated in the 1990s. In a separate process, representatives of the Government and the Holy See held several negotiating sessions since September 2004 with the aim of reaching an agreement (concordat) on fiscal and legal matters. The negotiations addressed the issues of tax exemption of Roman Catholic institutions and property and the access of the Roman Catholic Church to Israeli courts. No agreement had been reached by the end of the period covered by this report.
Since the Government does not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Muslim citizens must travel through another country, usually Jordan, to obtain travel documents for the Hajj. The average number of Hajj pilgrims traveling from the country each year is approximately 4,500, and the overall number allowed to participate in the Hajj is determined by Saudi Arabian authorities. According to the Government, travel to hostile countries, including travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, may be restricted; however, these restrictions are based on security concerns rather than on any religious or ethnic factors.
During the reporting period, many groups and individuals of numerous religions traveled to the country freely. Members of the Messianic Jewish community, however, charged that during the year, Government officials detained and denied entry to several of their members who were seeking to enter the country. For example, in November 2004, an American citizen, who identified himself as a Messianic Jew, reported to the press that officials at Ben Gurion Airport charged him with the intent to engage in illegal missionary activity, temporarily denied him entry into Israel, threatened to expel him, and held him in a jail near the airport for 24 hours. He was eventually allowed to enter Israel.
According to representatives of Christian institutions, the process of visa issuance for Christian religious workers significantly improved after a period in 2003 when the Government refused to grant residence visas to approximately 130 Catholic clergy assigned to Israel and the occupied territories. The Ministry of the Interior's Christian Department reported that it approved most of the 3,000 applications made by clergy during the reporting period.
The Government discriminates against non-Jewish citizens and residents, the vast majority of whom are Arab Muslims and Christians, 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 2003 noting historical, societal, and governmental discrimination against Arab citizens. The Orr Commission's report also charged the Government with failure to allocate state resources in an equitable manner, and concluded that government neglect resulted in poverty, unemployment, a shortage of land, significant shortcomingsin the education system, a substantially defective infrastructure, and other serious problems in the Arab sector.
According to a March 2005 media report, approximately 8,000 non-Jewish soldiers were serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF policy is to allow non-Jewish soldiers to go on home leave for their respective religious holidays. Military duties permitting, Jewish soldiers can leave on holidays. These duties rotate to allow some soldiers to go home for Jewish holidays. The IDF itself conducts commemorative activities appropriate for each respective Jewish holiday.
The IDF does not have any Muslim or Christian chaplains because, according to Government sources, the frequent home leave accorded all soldiers allows Muslim and Christian soldiers easy and regular access to their respective clergy and religious services at home. There have been discussions between the IDF and the National Security Council regarding chaplain appointments for non-Jewish IDF soldiers, but no decision has been made. The Government uses private non-Jewish clergy as chaplains at military burials when a non-Jewish soldier dies in service. In 2003, however, according to the family of an Israeli Christian soldier killed in a terrorist attack, 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 non-religious ceremony without a religious figure to officiate. All Jewish chaplains in the IDF are Orthodox.
The IDF sponsored Orthodox Jewish conversion courses for Jewish soldiers who do not belong to Orthodox Judaism and for non-Jewish soldiers seeking to convert to Judaism. The IDF does not facilitate conversion to other religions.
Military service is compulsory for Jews and Druze. Orthodox Jews can obtain exemptions from service for full-time religious study. Some Arab citizens, mainly Bedouin, are accepted as volunteers. Approximately 90 percent of Israeli Arabs do not serve in the army. Israeli-Arab advocacy groups have charged that housing, educational, and other benefits, as well as employment preferences based on military experience, effectively discriminate in favor of the Jewish population, the majority of whom serve in the military. In December 2004, the Ivri Committee on National Service recommended to the Government that Israeli Arabs be afforded an opportunity to perform alternative nonmilitary service. By the end of the reporting period, the Government had not yet considered these recommendations.
During the year, observers noted that airport immigration officials denied entry on several occasions to non-Jews who arrived with mutilated passports, whereas Jews with damaged travel documents were allowed entry.
The Government has different education standards for Orthodox Jewish and non-Orthodox Jewish schools receiving funding. State-subsidized ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious schools have not been compelled, as have other types of schools, to comply with the law requiring all state-funded schools to teach core curriculum subjects, such as mathematics. The High Court ruled in December 2004 that ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious schools that do not comply with the Education Ministry's core curriculum by the opening of the 2007 school year will not be eligible for any funding from the Ministry. The ruling was a response to a petition filed by the Secondary Schools Teachers' Association against the Ministry of Education charging that while the Ministry cut funding to the public school system, causing hundreds of teachers to lose their jobs, it provided approximately $40 million to autonomous ultra-Orthodox schools that do not comply with Ministry pedagogical requirements. In response to the court ruling, the Ministry is reportedly establishing criteria for the funding of schools that are not state-run.
Government resources available for religious/heritage studies to Arab and to non-Orthodox Jewish public schools are proportionately less than those available to Orthodox Jewish public schools. According to the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), approximately 96 percent of all state funds for Jewish religious education were allocated exclusively to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, both public and private Arab public schools offer studies in both Islam and Christianity, but the funding for such studies is disproportionately less than for religious education courses in Jewish Orthodox schools.
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, however, receive significant government funding in addition to philanthropic contributions from within the country and abroad, which effectively lowers the schools' tuition costs.
Government funding to the different religious sectors is disproportionate to the sectors' sizes. Civil rights NGOs have charged that the Government favors Orthodox Jewish institutions in the allocation of state resources for religious activities.
IRAC noted that approximately 97 percent of public funding for Jewish cultural and educational activities goes to Orthodox Jewish organizations, despite IRAC's estimate that non-Orthodox Jewish institutions account for approximately 20 percent of all Jewish cultural activities. In response to a petition filed by IRAC in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in December 2004 that the Government must create new criteria for state funding of Jewish cultural activities.
In spite of legal provision for public funding to build non-Orthodox synagogues, the Government had not funded the construction of any non-Orthodox synagogues. In 2003, IRAC petitioned the High Court on behalf of a reform congregation in Modi'in to require that Modi'in municipality fund construction of a reform synagogue. The city already funded eight Orthodox synagogues, but none that were conservative or reform. The High Court ruled in 2003 that it was permissible to use state funds for the construction of a Reform synagogue in the city of Modi'in and ordered the municipality to repeat the process for determining which congregations would receive funding and to use criteria that would guarantee and provide equal treatment. Nevertheless, the request for funding stalled in the Modi'in municipality, while the municipality had been using Housing Ministry funding to make allocations to Orthodox synagogues. IRAC again petitioned the High Court to compel the municipality to hold a hearing to consider all available budget requests for synagogue construction in light of the needs of Modi'in residents. IRAC also petitioned the court to freeze all municipal allocations for synagogue construction in Modi'in until such a hearing is held. At the end of the reporting period, the case remained pending with the municipality.
In 1998, the High Court of Justice ruled that discrepancies in budget allocations between religious institutions in the Jewish and non-Jewish sectors constituted "prima facie" evidence of discrimination. In 2000, the plaintiffs from the 1998 High Court case brought a case contending discrimination in the allocation of resources for religious cemeteries. The High Court agreed with the plaintiffs that non-Jewish religious cemeteries were receiving inadequate resources and ordered the Government to increase funding to such cemeteries.
The 1996 Alternative Burial Law established the right of any individual to be buried in a civil ceremony, and required the establishment of 21 public civil cemeteries throughout the country. However, at the end of the reporting period, 1 public civil cemetery had been established in the country, in Be'er Sheva, and approximately 15 Jewish cemeteries in the country contained a section for civil burials. Several domestic civil rights and immigrant groups asserted that the Government failed to allocate adequate space or sufficient funds for the establishment of civil cemeteries. Civil burials are also offered by certain Kibbutzim, but, according to some NGOs, such burials are expensive. The Government reported that the 2004 capital budget for civil cemeteries was approximately $760,000. It reported that in 2004, the administrative budget for Jewish cemeteries was approximately $2 million, and claimed that no capital budget was allocated.
Only approximately 7 percent of land is privately held. Most Israelis who control land, either for residential or business use, including farms, lease their land from the Government on long-term leases. Of the 93 percent of the land not in private hands, the Government directly controls the vast bulk, but approximately 12.5 percent is owned by the state through the quasi-public Jewish National Fund (JNF). The Israel Land Administration, a government agency, manages both the land directly owned by the Government and the JNF land. The JNF's charter prohibits it from leasing land to non-Jews. In addition, the Jewish Agency, an organization that promotes Jewish immigration to the country and develops residential areas on both public and JNF land, 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 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 precludes any restrictions on the leasing or sale of land based on nationality, religion, or any other discriminatory category. With respect to this ruling, official JNF policy has not changed; no other cases arose after the initial 2000 ruling during the period covered by this report.
In October 2004, civil rights groups petitioned the High Court of Justice to block a Government bid announcement involving JNF land that effectively banned Arabs from bidding. The Government then halted marketing of JNF land in the Galilee and other areas of the north, where there are large Arab populations. In December 2004, Adalah petitioned the High Court to require the Government to apply nondiscriminatory procedures for allocating land and to conduct open land sales/leases to Arabs as well as to Jews. In January 2005, the Attorney General ruled that the Government cannot discriminate against Israeli Arabs in the marketing and allocation of lands it manages, including lands that the Israel Land Administration manages for the Jewish National Fund. Adalah criticized the Attorney General, however, for also deciding that the Government should compensate the JNF with land equal in size to any plots of JNF land won by non-Jewish citizens in government tenders.
Exclusive control over marriages resides by law with recognized bodies of the recognized religious denominations. Accordingly, anyone wishing to marry in a secular ceremony, Jews wishing to marry in non-Orthodox religious ceremonies, Jews not officially recognized as Jewish by the Orthodox Jewish establishment but wishing to marry in Jewish ceremonies, and Jews wishing to marry someone of another faith must all do so abroad. The Ministry of the Interior recognizes such marriages. According to Central Bureau of Statistics figures released in March 2005, 7,089 Israelis married abroad in 2002, compared to 3,639 in 1997. Others hold weddings unrecognized by the Government, including Reform and Conservative weddings and those conducted by Kibbutz authorities.
In March 2004, the Knesset (Parliament) rejected two bills that would have allowed for civil marriage in Israel. In July 2004, the chairman of a Knesset committee established to formulate a civil marriage option announced that the committee would not complete its work or issue recommendations due to what he characterized as political interference with the committee's work. In April 2005, the High Court instructed the Government to inform it within 3 months of the Government's position on whether to recognize so-called "consular marriages," those conducted by officials of foreign embassies in the country. Government recognition of consular marriages would enable couples in Israel with no religious affiliation, or those of a religion not recognized by the Government, to wed in such civil ceremonies.
In December 2004, the Government reached an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate to limit required prenuptial instruction to those Jewish religious laws that are directly connected to the marriage ceremony and not require Jewish couples to receive instruction on Orthodox Jewish laws of ritual purity.
The State does not recognize conversions to Judaism performed in the country by non-Orthodox rabbis. In March 2005, the High Court ruled that, for the purpose of conferring citizenship rights, the Government must recognize those non-Orthodox conversions of noncitizen legal residents that were begun in Israel but formalized abroad by acknowledged Jewish religious authorities, even if not of the Orthodox strain. In a separate May 2004 ruling, the court determined that non-Jews who move to the country and then convert in the country through an Orthodox conversion are eligible to become immigrants and citizens pursuant to the Law of Return. Previously, non-Jews were entitled to immigrate to the country and obtain full citizenship only if these conversions were conducted entirely abroad and under Orthodox standards. The High Court did not, however, rule on whether the Government must recognize non-Orthodox conversions formalized in Israel.
The Shinui Party, which ran in the 2002 national elections on a platform of ending the exclusive power of the Orthodox establishment over such issues as marriage and citizenship, left Prime Minister Sharon's governing coalition in December 2004 in protest over the allocation of approximately $70 million in the 2005 budget for ultra-Orthodox religious institutions. Prime Minister Sharon allocated the funds as part of a coalition agreement with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party to secure that party's support for the Gaza disengagement plan.
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 have either disappeared or refused to grant divorces.
Rabbinical tribunals have the authority to impose sanctions on husbands who refuse to divorce their wives or on wives who refuse to accept divorce from their husbands. One Jewish U.S. citizen served more than 2 years in jail rather than grant his wife a writ of divorce. He was released approximately 1 year ago. In May 2004, 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 Jews 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. One Arab Muslim woman who won a divorce from her abusive husband in a Muslim court subsequently filed a civil suit against the husband with the Magistrates Court in northern Israel. The court set a precedent in March by awarding the woman approximately $10,000 in compensation for damage to her status and chances of re-marrying. Divorced Arab women are stigmatized in their communities and experience difficulties remarrying.
Members of unrecognized religious groups, particularly evangelical Christians, sometimes face problems in obtaining marriage certifications or burial services similar to the problems faced by Jews who are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox establishment. Informal arrangements with other recognized religious groups provide relief in several cases.
Most Orthodox Jews believe that mixed gender prayer services violate the precepts of Judaism. As a result, such services are prohibited at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, and men and women must use separate areas to visit the Western Wall. Women also are not allowed to conduct any prayers at the Western Wall wearing prayer shawls, which are typically worn by men, and cannot read from Torah scrolls. 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, part of an archeological site. The court ordered the Government to prepare an area at Robinson's Arch where women could read aloud from the Bible and conduct group prayers, and the Government inaugurated a plaza in this area for women's services in August 2004. According to IRAC, however, women who want to pray there must either provide the Government with 2 days' notice or pay the regular fee applicable for visiting the archeological site.
In 2003, IRAC petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the government practice whereby the Adoption Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs places non-Jewish Israeli children only in Orthodox Jewish homes. Existing law requires that the adopted child must be of the same religion as the adopting parents. However, Representatives of IRAC reported that when no family of the same religion is willing to adopt the child, adoption officials consistently place the child with an Orthodox family. In such cases, the child's conversion to Judaism must be completed before the adoption is finalized. The Government defended its practice by arguing that the placement of non-Jewish children in Orthodox homes eliminates any subsequent legal uncertainty about the Jewish status of the children. At the end of the reporting period, the case was still pending.
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 the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, committed acts of terror against Israelis during the period covered by this report. These attacks included an August 2004 twin suicide bombing of buses in Be'er Sheva, killing 16 persons and injuring more than 100. Hamas claimed responsibility. In November 2004, a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv killed 3 Israelis and wounded 30. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility. Rocket attacks in June and September 2004 killed a total of four residents of Sderot. At least one group claiming responsibility for attacks, Hamas, includes anti-Semitic material on its website.
Improvements in Respect for Religious Freedom
The Government appointed Oscar Abu-Razek, a Muslim Israeli Arab, as director general of the Ministry of Interior, the first Arab to serve in such a senior position in a government ministry. In addition, for the first time since the establishment of the State, an Arab was appointed as a permanent justice of the High Court.
According to government data, the number of non-Jewish directors on the boards of state-owned companies increased from 5.5 percent in 2002 to 8 percent in 2005. Prime Minister Sharon has stated publicly that increasing the number of non-Jewish board directors and the number of non-Jewish civil service employees are government priorities.
Members of the Knesset and the Chief Rabbinate attended a seminar in January 2005, hosted by the American Jewish Committee, to increase understanding of the various branches of Christianity. To enhance interfaith relations, seminar participants also visited the heads of various Christian denominations in Israel, including the Latin and Armenian patriarchs and a representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
A Knesset subcommittee was established in December 2004 to track the needs of the Israeli-Arab sector and recommend changes in the 2005 budget to benefit that sector. Mohammed Barakeh, a Knesset member from the Israeli-Arab party "Hadash," was appointed to head the subcommittee.
The Government established a new department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fight anti-Semitism and commemorate the Holocaust.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Relations among different religious groups--between Jews and non-Jews, between Christians and Muslims, between Christians of different traditions, 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 were compounded by governmental and societal discrimination against Israeli Arabs, both Muslim and Christian. These tensions were heightened by the Arab-Israeli conflict, and manifested in terrorist attacks targeting Israelis, 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 March 2005 poll conducted by the Dahaf Institute, a majority of Israeli Jews believe that the state should encourage Israeli Arabs to emigrate. Similar surveys have also revealed a continuing increase in distrust between Israeli Jews and Arabs. An ultra-Orthodox weekly, Sh'a Tova, reportedly carried a comic strip for children with negative depiction of Arabs, including the statement, "Yes, a good Arab is a dead Arab." During the reporting period, Israeli Jewish fans of a Jerusalem soccer team shouted racist slogans against Israeli Arab soccer players during a match. In 2004, several Israeli Jews were indicted in one incident for shouting such slogans.
During the reporting period, incidents occurred in Jerusalem in which ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths assaulted Arabs and spray-painted anti-Arab graffiti.
In October 2004, a yeshiva student spat at the Armenian archbishop of Jerusalem while he was engaged in a religious procession through the Old City. The student was arrested and ordered to remain away from the Old City for 75 days. He also made a formal apology. The Holy See and the country's Chief Rabbinate issued a joint condemnation of the assault at the end of a meeting of Catholic and Jewish officials near Rome shortly after the incident.
The phrases "Death to Arabs" and "Death to Gentiles" were spray-painted in March on 10 graves in a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood. Police continued to investigate but had not made any arrests by the end of the reporting period.
According to a reputable Jewish organization in Israel, recent years have seen an increase in anti-Semitic graffiti in outlying immigrant towns. The organization attributes these acts to "disaffected" immigrant youth rather than to individuals motivated by anti-Semitic beliefs.
Advancement of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's controversial plan to withdraw all citizens from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank caused tensions in Israeli society between supporters and opponents of the plan, the latter often being members of religious Zionist groups. During the year, a rabbi issued a religious edict permitting settlers to physically harm Bedouin and Druze soldiers who participate in the evacuation of settlements pursuant to Sharon's plan. In response to the edict, a Bedouin Sheikh urged Bedouin soldiers to respond forcefully, including with live fire, to any settler attacks against them during the evacuation.
Death threats in various forms, including graffiti, have been made against government officials who support the disengagement plan, including against Prime Minister Sharon. During a March 2005 sermon, Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef suggested that God would see that Sharon dies for implementing disengagement. The national office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a public statement condemning Yosef's sermon for its inflammatory language and his subsequent apology as inadequate. Neo-Nazi graffiti was sprayed on monuments honoring, and actual gravesites of, several well-known Israeli historical figures, including the grave of the country's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. In May 2005, swastikas and graffiti comparing Prime Minister Sharon to Adolf Hitler were sprayed on the road leading into the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. A reputable Jewish organization attributed these acts to extremist opponents of Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan. In April 2005, police discovered two fake bombs in Jerusalem and arrested two far-right religious activists with planting those bombs and others, in their efforts to distract government attention from the disengagement plan.
In February 2005, Druze rioters damaged a Melkite Catholic church and damaged or burned dozens of Christian businesses, homes, and cars in the northern village of Mughar after a Druze falsely claimed that Christian youths had placed pornographic pictures of Druze girls on the Internet. Eight persons were reported injured, and many Christians fled the city and refused to allow their children to return to school for weeks in the aftermath of the violence. Druze religious leaders were quick to denounce the riots, and representatives of the Christian community criticized the Government for not responding more quickly to the violence. In June 2005, the Government announced the allocation of $2 million (NIS 10 million) in state funds to compensate residents for damaged property incurred during the riots.
Numerous NGOs in the country are dedicated to promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence and interfaith understanding. Their programs include events to increase productive contact between religious groups and to promote Jewish-Arab dialogue and cooperation. These groups and their events have had varying degrees of success. Interfaith dialogue often is linked to the peace process between the country and its Arab neighbors. Among efforts in this area are those of participants in the Alexandria Interfaith Peace Process, initiated at a 2002 interfaith conference in Cairo. Canon Andrew White, the Archbishop of Canterbury's special representative to the Alexandria Process, convened meetings in December 2004 and in January 2005 in Jerusalem with Israeli and Palestinian religious leaders to discuss advancing the Alexandria Process. The group discussed ways to advance an agenda of peace among religious leaders in their respective communities. In January, as part of the Alexandria Process, Israeli rabbis and Israeli and Palestinian imams joined a group of more than 100 imams and rabbis from all over the world in a Brussels conference aimed at enhancing interfaith understanding and combating violence.
Animosity between secular and religious Jews continued during the period covered by this report. Non-Orthodox Jews have complained of discrimination and intolerance by members of ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups. Persons who consider themselves Jewish but who are not considered Jewish under Orthodox law particularly complained of discrimination. As in past years, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem threw rocks at passing motorists driving on the Sabbath.
A variety of NGOs exists that seek to build understanding and create dialogue between religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities. Several examples are 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 among 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. Media sources reported that the Messianic Jewish community accused Yad L'achim, a Jewish religious organization opposed to missionary activity, of harassing its members. Christian and Muslim Israeli-Arab religious leaders complain that missionary activity that leads to conversions frequently disrupts family coherence in their communities.
A March 2005 dispute over the sale of property in Jerusalem's Old City owned by the Greek Orthodox Church to Jewish investors ended with senior Orthodox leaders calling for the removal of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I. At the end of the reporting period, Patriarch Irineos had not resigned, but many Greek Christians in the country reject his authority.
Politicians, media outlets, and many ordinary citizens criticized the Government's practice of granting military draft exemptions and living allowances to full-time yeshiva students. In February 2004, 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 reporting period, the committee had not issued its recommendations.
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.
Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, routinely meet with religious officials. These contacts include meetings with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze leaders at a variety of levels. In April 2005, the Embassy invited two Knesset members from the secular Shinui party and two from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to participate together in an International Visitors Program on the U.S. legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. The program received positive media coverage for enhancing understanding and ties between these two rival parties.
In October 2004, a representative from the Office of International Religious Freedom visited Israel and met with Government officials, Jewish religious leaders, civil rights NGO representatives, Israeli-Arab human rights advocates, and Christian clergy and religious workers—particularly those negatively impacted by construction of the separation barrier.
In November 2004, the Embassy hosted, as it has in recent years, an Iftar to commemorate the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, inviting more than 80 Israeli Muslim representatives from the political, economic, legal, religious, and business communities, as well as 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.
The Embassy provided grants to local organizations promoting interfaith dialogue and coexistence and to organizations examining the role of religion in resolving conflict. For example, a grant facilitated the Alexandria Process, an interfaith dialogue between Christian, Muslim and Jewish spiritual leaders on furthering tolerance and nonviolence in their respective communities. Part of the grant funds publications and curriculum development for religious tolerance and coexistence in the Israeli school system.
The Embassy provided a grant to support a program for a dozen Palestinian youths and 20 Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Arab youths to hold an October dialogue/retreat on "Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Youth Leadership."
Embassy officials maintain a dialogue with NGOs that follow human and civil rights issues, including religious freedom. Embassy representatives also attended and spoke at meetings of such organizations, including 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, and Adalah.