Panel Urges Crackdown on Cults

An interministerial committee examining the activities of cults in Israel has submitted a 500-page report to Education Minister Yitzbak Navon urging a tough policy to crack down on the various sects it investigated.

The report maintained that the religious-mystical cults posed a serious threat to Israeli society and said the leaders of the various groups were enriching themselves. The committee chairman, Likud MK Miriam Glazer-Taasa, told an Israel Radio interviewer that membership in the sects was “a form of dependence, bondage, self-enslavement and sometimes the handing over of an individual’s property to the leaders who are soul-traders and abuse our laws.”

But civil rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman dissented sharply. He charged that the report only “encouraged the persecution of those in our society who do not conform. The area of self-expression is one with which the law should not deal.”

The interministerial committee was established in 1982 by then Education Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party. It investigated 10 groups, including Scientology, EST, Transcendental Meditation, the Unity Church, the Divine Light Mission, and Hare Krishna. The Unity Church members are known as “Moonies” after their founder, the Korean businessman Rev. Sun Yung Moon.

A statement issued by the Education Ministry after receipt of the report said: “The interdepartmental committee which looked into the issue of new sects operating in Israel warns against the emergence of a deliberate severance between the individual and society in some of the groups, both as a result of physical isolation and psychological and communication methods.”

The statement warned that such rifts between individual and society “can significantly affect the individual’s judgement, autonomy and ability to make a choice.”

The committee decided by majority vote not to include in its investigation groups promoting “return to Judaism” or the activities of ultra-Orthodox Jews who try to persuade secular Jews to adopt a strict Orthodox lifestyle.

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