'Ultra-Orthodox Tighten Their Grip In Israel'
08/08/2012 - 21:21
Douglas Bloomfield

Israel's increasingly intolerant and violent ultra-Orthodox minority is "tightening [its] grip in Israel" in a "chilling parallel to the escalating fundamentalist tendencies within Islam," writes Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. 

There's also an uncomfortable reminder of the 1955 Birmingham, Alabama, bus boycott and the South where seating was segregated -- by race in Alabama, by gender in parts of Israel (and Brooklyn).

Israel's religious extremists – including many anti-Zionists -- wield considerable clout in a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a secular conservative who sees them as an essential element in his political base.

"[A]s their numbers mount, they have stepped up demands that society accommodate their religious needs," Marcus writes.  It is on display currently as haredim fight efforts to draft their young men into the army like other Israeli citizens since the Supreme Court has declared their exemptions unconstitutional.

And what will happen when haredi soldiers are given orders by female officers?  Or when their rebbes order them to disobey orders by their commanders, for example, to dismantle illegal settlements or prevent settler violence against Palestinians?

Israeli women soldiers have been barred from singing in official programs where haredi men are present because they might find women's voices offensive.  Marcus recounts the incident when a female pediatrics professor was barred from going on stage to accept an award from the ultra-Orthodox health minister.

Israel claims to be the leading democracy and protector of human rights and religious freedom in its part of the world.  Its citizens – all of them -- deserve a government that lives up to that standard.

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