Thursday, April 24, 2014

No, Israel Isn’t About to Turn Into a Theocracy

A misleading New York Times op-ed distorts the entire Israeli political scene

Today, the New York Times published an op-ed that attempts to demonstrate that Israel is drifting towards an Orthodox Jewish theocracy. Unfortunately for the paper, the piece instead demonstrates its authors’ profound ignorance of both Israeli domestic politics and Orthodox Judaism. The entire argument of the op-ed, written by the otherwise excellent Iranian scholar Abbas Milani and University of Haifa’s Israel Waismel-Manor, hinges on one key point:

While the Orthodox Jewish parties are currently not part of the government, together with Mr. Bennett’s Jewish Home, a right-wing religious party, they hold about 25 percent of seats in the Knesset. The Orthodox parties aspire to transform Israel into a theocracy.

As will be apparent to anyone with a passing familiarity with Israeli politics or Orthodox Judaism, this claim is demonstrably false. Not all Orthodox Jews are the same, not all Orthodox parties are the same, and not all Orthodox Jews seeks to turn Israel into a theocracy. In fact, many of them vigorously oppose such a move. The authors conveniently combine the ultra-Orthodox parties (currently in opposition) and the Modern Orthodox—or religious Zionist—Jewish Home party (currently in the coalition). Suggesting that these deeply disparate communities are ideologically identical is a dubious step, but it is necessary for the authors’ thesis, because Jewish Home holds 12 Knesset seats, a little less than half of the writers’ purported theocratic bloc. Without Jewish Home working with the ultra-Orthodox to impose Orthodox Jewish law on the masses, the op-ed’s entire scheme falls apart.

How inconvenient, then, that Jewish Home and its leader Naftali Bennett have been working assiduously to weaken the country’s chief rabbinate, and to break the political stranglehold of the ultra-Orthodox over Israel’s religious life. Back in May 2013, Bennett became the first religious affairs minister in Israeli history to order the government to fund non-Orthodox rabbis, not just Orthodox ones. (Until then, Israel had been subsidizing all religious communities except non-Orthodox Jews.) Jewish Home has also backed legislation stripping the powers of conversion and marriage from the ultra-Orthodox chief rabbinate, and giving them instead to local (and typically more liberal) rabbis.

These developments should not be surprising: Bennett is a Modern Orthodox Jew who served in the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit, made millions in the tech industry, and is married to a non-Orthodox woman. His longtime deputy, and the Jewish Home’s number five seat, is Ayelet Shaked, herself a proud secular Jew. Not exactly the stereotypical bearded fanatics of a theocratic revolution.

But the Times‘s distortion of Israel goes deeper than a simple misunderstanding of a single party. The op-ed fundamentally misapprehends the entire Israeli political scene, which in recent years has turned against religious entanglement in politics. After the 2013 elections, the arguably theocratic ultra-Orthodox parties were kept out of the government coalition, for only the second time in 35 years. Why? Because Jewish Home joined with the secular Yesh Atid party and demanded Netanyahu leave them in opposition.

This has enabled the current coalition to pass not only the anti-rabbinate reforms described above, but a law that for the first time drafts the ultra-Orthodox into national service, in an attempt to integrate them into the fabric of the modern state. All of these reforms have been boosted by Modern Orthodox Jewish lawmakers in other parties–like Yesh Atid’s Rabbi Shai Piron (also Israel’s education minister) and Rabbi Dov Lipman, and Hatnua’s Elazar Stern–none of whom support theocracy.

In other words, the idea that the ultra-Orthodox parties would suddenly join forces with their religious Zionist counterparts to impose Jewish law isn’t just risible–it’s exactly the opposite of what has actually been happening.

Now, none of this is news. In fact, the alliance between Israel’s secular population and its modern Orthodox contingent against the ultra-Orthodox–rather than some fantastical pan-Orthodox push towards theocracy–has been well-documented by none other than the New York Times. Just last month, Isabel Kershner wrote about the “culture war between the secular and modern Orthodox Jews and the ultra-Orthodox,” and how it was reflected in the popular push to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military.

If only the authors of the op-ed–and their fact-checkers–had been reading their own paper.


Belgistan? Sharia Showdown Looms in Brussels

Brussels is the capital of Europe. But some are now calling it the Muslim capital of Europe.  The graffiti on a building in Belgium says it all: "Welcome to 'Belgistan." Muslims are still a minority in Belgium, but in the capital of Brussels, they're already the largest religious group, comprising one-quarter of the city's population.  In less than 20 years they're expected to be the majority.

The most confrontational Muslim group here is Sharia4Belgium. Many don't take the small group seriously. But Sharia4Belgium head Fouad Belkacem, alias Abu Imran, sounded very serious when he told CBN News he expects Muslims to dominate Belgium and the world.

"The Sharia will dominate," Imran said. "We believe Sharia will be implemented worldwide."

Imran was completely open with CBN News, saying Islam and Sharia law are inseparable, and that democracy is evil.  "Sharia is Islam, to be clear," he said. "There is no difference between Islam and Sharia, it's just a name."

"Democracy is the opposite of Sharia and Islam," he said. "We believe Allah is the legislator. Allah makes the laws. He decides what is allowed and what is forbidden."

CBN News asked Imran about self-described "democratic Muslims" who are against the extreme parts of Sharia law.  "That's really funny when I hear someone say I was speaking to a 'democratic Muslim,'" he replied. "It's the same thing as saying I was speaking to Christian Jew, or a Jewish Muslim or something like that. It's impossible."

"How could you meet a Jewish Muslim or a Christian Jew?" he continued. "And the Muslim who says he's against Sharia, he's not a Muslim. It's impossible."

Like in many countries across Europe, a culture war over Islam is well under way in Belgium.

Last month, the mosque of Charleroi was desecrated when a pig mask was affixed to its gate. Then the daughter of the head of Belgium's right wing party, An-Sofie Dewinter, posed in a bikini and burqa with the words in Dutch, "Freedom or Islam." 

Someone later painted over the poster, giving her a full burqa. Dewinter received death threats.

On YouTube, Imran called her father, politician Filip Dewinter "a pimp" for letting her pose in a bikini.

"This community is a dirty, perverted community. We see that this community is breaking down, so we need to save this community like we saved it in Spain," Imran said, referencing the Muslim invasion of Spain 1,300 years ago.  "We need to save this community and enlighten this community with Islam," he told CBN News.

And Islam is flexing its muscle. Girls in bikinis have been attacked, and in some Muslim neighborhoods, Sharia law is enforced.

A 'Fascist Ideology'

"The big cities in Europe are first places we can see what will happen when the majority is Muslim," warned Sam van Rooy, co-editor of an important new Dutch language book called Islam: Critical Essays on a Political Religion. "We see it in the big cities: Brussels, Amsterdam also, Rotterdam and Antwerp," he said.

"Islam is a fascist ideology, and it's not a religion like Christianity and Judaism," he told CBN News. "The danger in it is that it has a religious side, not like Communism and Nazism, which are only ideologies, but Islam has a bit of both."

Van Rooy told CBN News he's very pessimistic about the future of Europe, warning the region will most likely go the way of Sharia.

Imran is looking forward to someday replacing Belgian law with the Sharia law, including amputation for theft, stoning for adultery, and death to homosexuals.   "A lot of people, when they hear about Sharia, immediately start thinking about amputations, stoning, killings. That's just, I don't know, one-thousandth of the Sharia," he said.

"Did you know that in 1,302 years of the Islamic state, with the Sharia implemented, we had something like 60 hands cut off, amputated? So in 1,300 years, 60 hands," he noted.

"Is that really a number that you can say is frightening to everyone? And if you're not a criminal, why should you be afraid of Sharia?" he challenged.

Sharia Showdown Looms

A showdown over Sharia is coming because the high Muslim birthrate is changing the political landscape. The most common baby name in Brussels for four years running has been Mohammed.

CBN News asked Imran if he thinks it's just a matter of time before Muslims are the majority in Belgium.

"Of course," he replied. "Even the disbelievers themselves -- they say in 2030 something like that -- there will be a majority of Muslims here in Belgium. Here in Antwerp in the schools, 40 percent of the children are Muslim, so no problem."

And Imran offered this advice to the white native Belgians who want to stop the coming Muslim majority: "If they want to push us back or something, I don't know, maybe they can start by marrying four wives and have a lot of children," he said. "Start with that and they will have a chance, but I don't think so."

Van Rooy also said he sees a Muslim future for Belgium.  "I don't think it's going to stop," he told CBN News. "I am very pessimistic. And I think more and more Belgian people will leave Brussels, so it will become a real Islamic capital in decades."

"I don't think we're very far away," Imran agreed. "The victory of Allah is very near. So, I think the West and Europe needs to prepare itself for a wave of Sharia and Islam."


I've never voted Conservative, but Scotland's anti-Tory hatefest fills me with shame

By Tom Gallagher

There is no end in sight to the Scottish hate fest against the Tories. Although 15 per cent of voting Scots regularly back the party, this grudge now easily compares with the fear and detestation of papists in John Knox’s Scotland which delayed the arrival of the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act by a good number of years.

In 39 years of voting, my X has never alighted beside a Tory candidate. Held captive by romantic Irish nationalism during some of my student years, I was naturally allergic to Margaret Thatcher. But I failed to share the outrage of student mates over her bold decision to recover the Falkland Islands. I also admired her flinty stance towards the Soviet Union.

Later on, when travelling in Eastern Europe, it was not difficult to find people who declared that it was Thatcher’s resolve over the Falklands which convinced them that their own deliverance would eventually be at hand.

John Major struck me as a middle manager who had little idea of what he was doing, especially when hiving off chunks of the state to be run profitably but often with a glaring lack of efficiency.

Rule first by a glib and messianic freeloader and then a clueless ideologue with an ugly temper was not enough to give the Tories an overall majority in 2010. Since then, David Cameron has increasingly seemed like a reincarnated Ramsay Macdonald. He has ingratiated himself with a shallow metropolitan elite (now extravagantly liberal in outlook) to the fury of supporters, many of whom brand him a traitor.

This preamble is a bid to make it clear that I am carrying no Tory baggage. Which hopefully enables me to express my dismay at the monstering of a party that long ago ceased to enjoy hegemony over the great institutions of state.

The SNP and the Labour Party are in a race to see who can paint the Tories in the most lurid colours. The SNP of course is ahead because it is the most uninhibited force and Labour is linked up with the Tories in the pro-Union Better Together campaign.

Both seek to depict the Tories as a foreign organism eating off the Scottish body politic. David Cameron even partly conceded the point at Prime Minister’s questions on 8 January. He seemed to agree with comments made by Labour Scottish affairs select committee chairman Ian Davidson that the last person Scots supporting a No vote want is "a Tory toff from the home counties".

The Prime Minister said: "I accept that my appeal does not stretch to all parts of Scotland."

On 7 February, when Cameron gave a pro-Union speech in London, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister slammed him for lacking "the guts to come here to Scotland and make his argument". She described him as the "embodiment of the democratic case" for separation as a Tory Prime Minister.

But when Cameron brought his cabinet to Aberdeen in the same month, Alex Salmond took it as a provocation and convened his own cabinet just  a few miles away. He mocked Cameron for "fooling around on the playing fields of Eton", when he himself was allegedly performing stirring deeds in the Royal Bank of Scotland

In polls, a large number of Scots say that the prospect of a Tory continuation in office beyond 2015 will push them towards the Union exit. The Scottish media plays up to this anti-Tory mindset. Few commentators spring to mind who point out that Scotland has been sheltered from the Osborne-led cuts thanks to the block grant it receives from London remaining largely intact.

Derek Bateman was a long-standing BBC Scotland presenter who now, set up with his own blog, feels free to offer his view of England and Tory policies which presumably made him to toast of the BBC canteen in Glasgow. Here's a taste of his sarcasm:

Sorry for allowing your (English) policies to kill men in our biggest city in their mid-fifties – still it keeps pension costs down.

Sorry you (England) have so many shaven-headed louts with pit bulls on crime-ridden estates and have created one of the least equal societies on earth.

Sorry for thinking of you as stuck-up, effete, self-centred, unreliable t**ts when there is absolutely nothing in history to support such bigotry.

When Thatcher was pursuing economic policies that pushed fragile heavy industrial firms on Clydeside towards insolvency, Scots had the option of voting for independence. But very few did (I being one of those few in 1983). The irony is that if they opt for independence now, in far less favourable conditions than back then, they might find it hard to escape from a homegrown Thatcherism. Without drastically pruning a sprawling Scottish state, it is hard to see how economic viability can be acquired.

In March a paper written by John Swinney, the Scottish Finance Minister, conceded that a separate Scotland’s finances would be at the mercy of volatile oil prices and the mounting cost of dealing with an ageing population, leading inevitably to public sector cuts.

Ruthless operator that he is, it is likely that Alex Salmond would have no compunction in using the recently centralised Scottish police force to come down very  hard on any trade union activists and political radical who tried to block his economic house-cleaning.

But the time for hard-headed realism is not yet at hand. The SNP proclaims that it has no enemies to its Left. Impractical policies like re-nationalising Royal Mail are the stuff of SNP rhetoric. Plans are already afoot to compel large landowners to sell up (as likely as not to the SNP’s own house capitalists rather than to would-be small farmers).

The Tories are the diabolical "other". Their  baleful presence evokes rituals of denunciation, conveniently stifling any honest debate on how power will be exercised in the Scotland of the future. The emphasis on their foreignness, their education, their presumed arrogance etc is designed  to make it impossible to imagine Scotland remaining in a state where they wield any real influence.

This demonisation of a foreign "usurper" and its local agents fills me with shame and a fear for the future. As long as this rhetoric is endorsed by Scotland’s two main parties and left unchallenged by the media, it will create a dumbed-down xenophobia that will make it very easy for populists to ruin the country.

The anti-Tory hatefest (and indeed Salmond’s relaxed attitude to the roughing-up of Nigel Farage in Edinburgh last May) show the lack of interest that the SNP has in establishing normal friendly relations with Scotland’s nearest neighbour and chief economic customer.

It suggests that any alternative centre-Right party based on genuine national sovereignty and economic self-reliance is going to have a very tough time in a Caledonian Free State.

Russian depiction of neighbours as inveterate enemies has created an ugly atmosphere that could drive the world towards armed confrontation. The stakes are not as high in Scotland. But Salmond is fishing in the same choppy ethnic waters and using hatred of the English Tories as bait.

It is high time both he and Labour were asked to desist. If the First Minister put an end to the tribal anti-Tory rhetoric and conceded that a debate with David Cameron is pointless because the referendum is an all-Scottish affair, it would be an overdue improvement in political standards. But it remains to be seen if Alex the statesman can eclipse Alex the class warrior and patriotic tub-thumper.


Christian nursery worker 'sacked after refusing to read gay stories to children'

A Christian nursery worker is taking her former employers to court claiming she was sacked for her beliefs after refusing to read stories about gay couples to children.

Sarah Mbuyi says she was dismissed due to religious discrimination, having also been accused of “harassing” a lesbian colleague to whom she gave a Bible when she was recovering from an accident.

The case, lodged at an employment tribunal, comes amid growing concerns among some Christians that religious beliefs are being “outlawed” in the workplace. A Christian group backing the case says it is an example of believers being “robbed” of the freedom to express views.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has warned that “militant atheists” are attempting to impose “politically correct intolerance” on others. “We’re a Christian nation,” he insisted.

Last week David Cameron said Christians should be “more evangelical” about their faith and “get out there and make a difference to people’s lives”. But the Christian Legal Centre, which is funding Miss Mbuyi’s case, said his words were “failing to play out”.

Miss Mbuyi, 30, who lives in north London, carries a Bible. She started work for Newpark Childcare, a London-based group of four nurseries, last April, before being taken on full-time in one of the schools in September.

The same month a lesbian worker also joined the nursery, in Shepherd’s Bush, west London. After discovering that Miss Mbuyi was Christian she repeatedly asked her about her beliefs, the tribunal will be told.

Miss Mbuyi, now working at another nursery, will claim her colleague sought to provoke her. In December the co-worker spent time in hospital having had an accident at work and Miss Mbuyi gave her a Bible on her return.

The present, Miss Mbuyi says, was as a result of the interest she had shown in her faith. It was received well, she insists.

The following month, however, Miss Mbuyi, a Belgian national who came to Britain six years ago, says her colleague told her she had received abuse about her sexuality from religious people in the past.

During the discussion, Miss Mbuyi says she told the woman that “if I tell you that God is OK with that I am lying to you”.

At a disciplinary meeting, her employers accused Miss Mbuyi of “harassing” her co-worker, saying such behaviour amounted to “gross misconduct”. The co-worker could not be reached for comment.

Her employers inquired how she would feel if she was asked to read children’s storybooks featuring same-sex parents. She replied that she would not be able to read such books.

The Christian Legal Centre has instructed Paul Diamond, a prominent religious rights barrister, to fight the case.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the group, said: “Sharing Biblical truths out of genuine love and concern for colleagues is being outlawed in the workplace by a dominating cultural correctness. There is a culture of fear which closes down freedom of speech and the manifestation of faith. This culture brands the liberating good news of the Gospel as oppressive and regressive.

“The Christian Legal Centre is representing Sarah Mbuyi as the latest in a line of Christians who are being threatened by a movement to repress Christians from living out a genuine expression of their faith in a country which once led the world in freedom and justice.”



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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