Why do I support the Blue and White Party? For one simple reason: religious liberty. Yair Lapid, co-chair of the Blue and White Party, has said, “It is absolutely out of the question for Israel to be the only state in the western world that does not grant full freedom of religion for Jews.”
What does he mean by that? In most cities of the Diaspora where Jewish communities exist, there is a plethora of synagogues with varying levels of expression. In Israel, except in the largest cities, the only synagogues are Orthodox, while most of the residents of Israel are not. In the Diaspora, Jews can be married by any number of rabbis among several Jewish denominations or even be married civilly in a local court. In Israel, Jews can only be legally married by Orthodox rabbis. This leads to approximately twenty percent of Jewish Israelis marrying outside of the country. In the Diaspora, Jews can take public transportation on Shabbat, including for the purpose of attending a congregation. In most areas of Israel, there is no public transportation on Shabbat. In the Diaspora, all Jewish denominations welcome Jewish converts into their midst. In Israel conversion to Judaism is a grueling process where potential converts are mandated to keep strict Orthodox traditions, to which most Israelis do not adhere.
What is the problem? When the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are part of the government, religious reforms are close to impossible. They hold monopolistic control over religious expression in the country; and as long as they are part of a governing coalition, they will ensure that their power continues.
The Blue and White Party is the only major party that has taken a position on religious freedom in the country. Here is the opening statement of the party platform on Religion and State:
The State of Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. With the establishment of the State, a “status quo” was established as a necessary compromise that enabled the coexistence of members of different communities and divisions in the framework of formulating rules in the relationship between religion and state. Over time, the agreements in this area eroded. The status quo has become a sign of stagnation, and today it sometimes even harms the individual freedom of some Israeli citizens and harms the status of Judaism in the country. Blue and White will preserve the Jewish identity of the State alongside the realization of the right of every person and community to shape their way of life in freedom and tolerance.
Here are some of the principles of religious liberty embodied in the Blue and White Party Platform:
1. Permit marriages to be authorized and performed outside of strict Orthodoxy.
2. Reform of the conversion system, making it easier to convert to Judaism.
3. Preserve the sanctity of Shabbat while making its adherence more flexible for Israel’s diverse population, including permitting limited public transportation and allowing localities to open certain types of stores.
4. Regulate the kashrut system, so it’s not completely controlled by the haredim.
5. Open parts of the Kotel (Western Wall) to mixed prayer groups.
While no major party will publicly support the rights of Messianic Jews, including the right to Aliyah, Messianic Jews will fare far better with a government committed to religious freedom. Any government that includes haredi parties as part of its coalition will continue to thwart religious liberty in the country and will resist any and all reforms. Isn’t it ironic that Jews fleeing persecution and discrimination in the Diaspora often face religious persecution and discrimination in their own Jewish State? Something needs to change. That’s why I’m supporting the Blue and White Party.