Yadin’s Movement in Trouble over Status of Religion in Israel

Prof. Yigal Yadin’s Democratic Movement for Change (DESH) is encountering internal difficulties over the perennially explosive issue of the favored status of religion in Israel. The movement, seeking the broadest possible base in the May 17 elections, has endorsed the unwritten status quo that has governed the government’s relationship with the religious establishment since the State was founded.

But members of the strongly secular “Shinui” (Change) movement, headed by lawyer writer Amnon Rubinstein, which joined DESH recently are reportedly restive over Yadin’s apparent concessions to the religious elements. On the other hand, those favoring an accommodation, express concern that DESH has taken on an anti-religious image since the merger with “Shinui.”

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a close associate of Yadin, said DESH seeks to be a “mainstream party that can unite the religious and non-religious” elements in society and, as such, “takes a tolerant stand on religious issues.” DESH obviously hopes to win support from Orthodox voters, especially since the National Religious Party and the Aguda bloc have both been weakened by internal conflicts.

The DESH platform declares that “Israel, as a Jewish society, should retain the principles of the halacha in matters of personal status while striving to correct the moral distortions.” The platform also backs continued State provision of religious services and kashrut in State institutions, such as the armed services, although the party’s Knesset members would be free to follow their consciences on religious issues. But the “Shinui” and other secular groups who regard State enforcement of religious practices as coercion say the platform belies the party’s stated objective of instituting changes in Israeli society.

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