Religion Overtakes Politics and Culture

Religion Overtakes Politics and Culture

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


Israel may well be on the verge of becoming a theocracy. As if it was not serious enough that Egypt is now going through the pains of moving towards a Government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, there are signs that Israel too may be moving closer as well to being dominated by the whims and fancies of religious leaders and their followers. 

In Egypt the Supreme Constitutional Court which is controlled by the military may have disbanded the democratically elected Parliament, but the people elected Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate as President. The military may still be running the country, but the die apparently has been cast. Baring a major military crackdown—which is by no means out of the question—it seems that the Muslim Brotherhood will gradually move into power. In the scheme of things it could actually be much worse if the more radical group of Salafi Muslims push out the Brotherhood.

In Israel the Government so far has not created a compromise acceptable to the charedi community as well as to the vast majority of Israelis, concerning charedi participation in the military. Given the pressure on the Netanyahu Government from most of the rest of his coalition as well as most Knesset members, Bibi might find himself facing the very elections he had sought to avoid when he created the grand coalition tent with Mofaz.

At a more mundane but equally confrontational manner, there is a  story  that Maariv is reporting the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is considering creating a ranking system to rate the level of kashrut for Israeli hotels. Hotels would be rated according to how scrupulous they are in their observance of kashrut, Jewish dietary laws. Apparently, hotels would be rated not only on their compliance with Jewish law with respect to the food but also the modesty of dress of their service personnel, the nature of the supervision of the non-Jewish personnel, and the character of the music being played in the public rooms. The commercial and social consequence of such actions could be dramatic. After the near social-political catastrophe created last year when the military had religious soldiers leaving when women were singing in public, one is truly beginning to sense that there is a triumphant move to the right within the religious community, with little interest or desire to accommodate or tolerate others.

Israel will have many more serious issues to address should the Muslim Brotherhood achieve true control in Egypt and then move the country into a fundamentalist direction. What Bibi should be demanding now is charedi compliance or to govern without them. If religion continues to encroach upon the functioning of daily life, modern democracy in Israel may fail from within.

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