The past year has seen a significant rise in religious coercion and violence on a religious background in Israel, a US State Department report on religious freedom issued on Wednesday stated. The report surveys religious freedom parameters in some 200 countries around the world and devotes a 29-page chapter to Israel.
The report states that "approximately 360,000 citizens who immigrated from the former-Soviet Union under the Law of Return but are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate, cannot be buried in Jewish cemeteries, divorce, or marry within the country."
It also noted that most of the Jews in Israel are not religious-Orthodox and oppose the Orthodox establishment's control of crucial aspects of their lives.
The report also mentiones the High Rabbinical Court's 2009 ruling which cast a doubt on 40,000 conversions performed by the state.
According to the report, there has been a significant rise in hostility manifestations between secular Jews and religious Jews in the past year and pointed to violent haredi demonstrations involving vandalism and violence towards police officers.
Inter-religious conflicts are also mentioned: "There were reports on haredi Jews insulting and spitting at priests and nuns, and defacing with graffiti and throwing garbage and dead cats at monasteries in Jerusalem."
In the field of religious coercion, the report pointed to the separation between men and women in services in the Western Wall and the operation of the ultra-Orthodox chastity squads.
Segregated bus lines
The State Department also reported that the "public transportation company, Egged, continued to operate some sex-segregated buses along inter-and intra-city routes frequented by ultra-Orthodox Jews" and noted that "women who refused to sit at the back of such buses risked harassment and physical assault by male passengers."
The report states that "ultra-Orthodox groups that proselytize secular Jews, encouraging them to adopt ultra-Orthodox practices and beliefs, enjoyed government funding." On the other hand, it was also noted that the Supreme Court continued to issue rulings based on freedom of religion and equality. The report also addressed the growing tension between the Orthodox establishment and the secular courts, particularly in relation to the Emmanuel affair.
Chairman of the Hiddush foundation For Freedom of Religion and Equality, Rabbi Uri Regev said in response: "It appears that when it comes to religious freedom Israel is closer to radical Islam countries than the Western democratic world.
"The report discusses at length the Israeli government's capitulation to the haredi parties' extortion and the way in which it compromises marriage rights, freedom of worship, women's dignity, the immigrant population, the non-Jewish communities and many others as part of a policy which gains power by funding religious institutes and capitulting to religious coercion while disregarding the will of the majority of the Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora. "
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