Israel’s Theocratic Threat

Israel is under severe theocratic threat. Israel’s Jewish Talibans oppose liberal democracy, modernity, gender equality and LGBTQI emancipation. Using their position in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, have Israel’s theocratic parties perpetuated religious coercion that are leftovers from the Ottoman Millet system, with a view towards eventually transforming Israel into a theocratic state.

The domestic struggle between the leftwing and the rightwing parties have for decades meant that the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties were allowed to implement their entire current agenda. This includes refusing the draft, men engaging in lifelong state-funded religious studies without working, perpetuating the monopoly of Orthodox Judaism over state-funded Jewish religious services, preventing conversions to Judaism and preventing Jewish divorces.  

In the past decade however, all theocratic political parties aligned with the Likud as led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Now, however, under the current coalition government all Jewish theocratic political parties find themselves in the opposition while for the first time ever the prime minister is an Orthodox Jew. Nevertheless, this is not popular with the Jewish theocrats since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a proponent of Liberal Orthodox Judaism and is an avowed opponent of theocracy. The post-Ottoman Millet system system nevertheless remains in place under the current government which includes the pro-theocratic Islamist Ra’am party which is part of the Israeli branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel’s Haredi population lives in separate cities and neighborhoods completely shut off from modernity with little to no contact with non-Haredi Israelis. Israel is bound to become a majority Haredi society due to the high Haredi fertility rate even though Median Jewish mass Aliyah (immigration) in the tens of millions will delay that for several decades. Living in separate neighborhoods means however that in the future Israel’s non-Haredi Jewish population will be able to live in their own communities without being coercively subjected to Haredi religious norms such as physical gender segregation on public buses and temporal gender segregation in supermarkets. 

There is a balance to be struck however of integrating Israel’s Haredim into Israel’s economy without coercively integrating Haredim into modernity. While Haredi religious coercion is wrong, this does not mean that reversely anti-religious coercion against Haredim would be right. Israel faces a future where the vast majority of its citizens will be Haredi, meaning that most members of Knesset also will be Haredi. What are the implications for religious coexistence in Israel? 

We need to understand the ramifications of potential Haredi theocratic rule. Haredi theocratic rule would mean that male homosexuals would be executed as would “blasphemers”, Jews who commit adultery and Jews who publicly violate the sabbath. Women would be disenfranchised and stripped of nearly all rights. Christianity would be outlawed as a form of “idolatry”. Those who persisted in practicing Christianity or other forms of so-called “idolatry” would be executed under Jewish law. Non-Orthodox forms of Judaism would be banned and there would be no freedom of religion. Television sets, satellite dishes, computers, internet and smartphones would be banned as would all pictures of women and girls. All newspapers and magazines would be banned except for rabbinically approved Haredi ones. Women would not be allowed as witnesses in the system of justice under Haredi rule and slavery would once more be legalized as slavery is allowed under both biblical law and rabbinical law. There would likely be slave markets in Israel in accordance with Jewish law. Non-Jewish citizens of Israel would be disenfranchised and would have limited rights as permanent residents. Liberal democracy would be completely abolished and needless to say would there be no elections at all.

The envisioned Haredi future in Israel is akin to the dystopia of ISIL and it is clear that limiting Israeli democracy is necessary in order to save it from a far worse fate. A liberal guided democracy with certain authoritarian features will preserve Israel’s democracy even when Israel becomes majority Haredi. Israel will need a constitution which states that it is a liberal Jewish state rather than as of now a democratic Jewish state. Israel needs an Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) that will keep enemies of open society under surveillance and ensure that they are brought to justice as enemies of the constitutional liberal order. The OPC would operate under the authority and supervision of the Israeli Supreme court. 

Drastic coercion will be needed to enforce the draft on the Haredi population, nationalize the Haredi education system and ensure that all Haredi youth learn a profession under drastic penalties. There is no way of ensuring these things voluntarily and it cannot be enforced under liberal democracy. This enforcement will become more difficult as the Haredi population rapidly grows in size and this can therefore not be deferred indefinitely as the burden grows on the Israeli economy. Freedom of religion, gender equality and LGBTQI rights must be enshrined in the new constitution. 

The OPC will need to be organized on the model of Turkey’s Derin Devlet domestic Deep State intelligence apparatus in comprehensively infiltrating Haredi society in educating and recruiting a new elite of Haredi leaders who would embrace the values of democracy, liberalism, gender equality and freedom of religion and who would largely populate the Knesset and corridors of powers of the Israeli state in a Haredi-majority future.

Theocrats and other enemies of open society would be constitutionally barred from running in elections and the OPC would vet candidates and lists of candidates prior to elections. The current situation in Turkey where the theocrats despite the strong power of the Derin Devlet have since 2003 been trying to take over Turkey is an alarming example which shows that under no circumstances must enemies of open society be allowed to run for elections. 

It is a painful reality that Israel will have to cease being a liberal democracy, yet of course remain a democracy of sorts. It is impossible to remain a liberal democracy with a pro-theocratic Haredi majority in society and so in order to maintain democracy, certain authoritarian features must be introduced through the OPC. It is vital that the operations of the OPC only target active enemies of open society and leave everyone else alone and thus protect open society. This will be a groundbreaking new political system which will be a hybrid between liberal democracy and dictatorship as the new system no doubt will hold thousands of political prisoners, convicted of being enemies of open society and the liberal order.  

The new hybrid system of liberal guided democracy can furthermore serve as a model of democratization and liberalization for those Muslim countries who suffer from the same predicament which Israel will suffer from decades from now, namely that the majority of the public sympathizes with and given the chance would therefore certainly also vote for pro-theocratic political parties.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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