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Special Interview Aloni Warns That Israel Might ‘turn into a Ghetto with an Army’ Unless Major Chang

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Shulamit Aloni, one of the most persistent fighters for human rights and religious freedom in Israel, said that Israel is in an acute crisis and warned that if no major changes are forthcoming “Israel will turn into a ghetto with an army.”

The outspoken Aloni, who is deeply involved in the struggle for women’s rights, is one of eight women members in Israel’s Knesset and the lone representative of the Civil Rights Party. Aloni was interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency prior to her visit to Detroit last weekend to receive on award from the Society for Humanistic Judaism for her activities on behalf of human rights.

Speaking in Hebrew, Aloni said that if Israelis want to resolve the current crisis they have “first of all to get rid of the occupation over another people, the Palestinians. Secondly, we have to order back to Israel all the aliya emissaries here and this, in itself, could make the biggest aliya year Israel has ever known. “She said Israel has to reevaluate its relationship with diaspora Jewry.

“We must turn Israel into a state that’s a challenge to world Jewry and not a Vatican,” she said. “I believe that we don’t want Israel to turn into a ghetto and an Orthodox theocratic state. Most of the Israelis reject this way of living. We must have a bill of rights and we must liberate the Israeli woman from the bondage of the religious law.”

CITES SETBACKS FOR WOMEN

In Aloni’s view, a major change toward a pluralistic, liberal, democratic society in Israel requires the abolition of the paragraph indicating “religion” on the ID card each Israeli citizen has to carry. “Unless this is done promptly, discrimination on religious and racial grounds in Israel will continue,” she said, adding that religious freedom and choice are imperative to any democratic society.

The chain-smoking Aloni, who almost caused a coalition crisis some years ago when she appeared in the Knesset with a short-sleeved dress to the dismay and horror of the religious MKs, said in response to a question that since the Likud assumed power in Israel there has been a regression in the status of women under the law.

She underlined the change in the abortion law, which eliminates the clause of harsh social conditions as permission for abortion; the new law exempting any woman from military–or any other national service–providing she declares she is religious; and the increase in the authority of the rabbinical courts in the country, as the major indicators of the setbacks for women in their fight for equality.

MAIN MESSAGE TO AMERICAN JEWS

Aloni said that during her current visit in the United States, in private and public meetings with Jews and non-Jews, she found increasing dissatisfaction with the Likud government’s foreign policy, especially the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. She said that she was received warmly by many Jewish groups and that her views were received in many cases with outright enthusiasm.

She said her main message to American Jewry is that Israel “must declare promptly that she will stop all new settlements and that the Israelis do not want to rule another people.” At the same time, she added, “Israel should retain control over the West Bank as a guarantee for peace and security.”

Noting that she is against the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, Aloni said she prefers a solution through negotiations with Jordan. Pointing out that the law in the West Bank as well as the currency is Jordanian, Aloni added: “We have to conduct negotiations with Jordan and the local Palestinians who live in those territories.”

Aloni said, in response to a question, that her “message” to American Jewry today also is: “You ought to support the State of Israel and the people of Israel but you don’t have to support the policies of the government.” She said that American Jewry especially should raise its voice on issues concerning the nature and image of the Jewish State. “This is not only their right but their obligation as well,” she said, noting, for instance, that American Jews should be in the forefront against the exclusivity of Orthodox Judaism in Israel.

“But with all the criticism American Jews might have of Israel, it is imperative that many, many of them should come to Israel as olim, “Aloni said, adding: “This is, after all, the essence of Zionism.”

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