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The Israeli Millet System

BS”D

 

In an article, “The Israeli Millet System: Examining Legal Pluralism through Lenses of Nation-Building and Human Rights”,[1] Yüksel Sezgin puts a critical focus on the Israeli legal system, arguing for the problematic nature of legal pluralism in the state, and the consequences of it.

Besides the proposal of a conscious Israeli choice of the Ottoman Millet system, used in order to create a unified and single Jewish identity, and being able to make a clear differing between this Jewish identity and Israeli non-Jewish identities, Sezgin points out why legal pluralism can be a problem, at least in the case of Israel.

As mentioned in earlier posts, in Israel authority on matters of family and personal law has been granted religious courts, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Druze.[2] This means that each religious group is only able to be married according to its religious laws, which again means that only those recognized as acceptable can be married. This differs from religion to religion, such as in case of Jews/Judaism is it only possible for Jews to marry Jews, while in case of Muslims/Islam is it possible for Muslim men to marry Jewish or Christian women, but not for Muslim women to marry Jewish or Christian men, and this is considered law of the state. In case of divorce this is also done according to the respective religion and its laws, which means that Jewish and Muslim women basically are placed in a worse situation than ditto men.

Should a Jewish man and Muslim woman fall in love and choose to marry, this is only possible outside Israel, but once married they would have to be divorced according to the laws of Israel, even if divorced outside Israel this divorce not necessarily being accepted by Israeli (religious) authorities.

The problematic nature of this is obvious, particularly considering that freedom of religion is secured in Israeli law, which might mean that one can choose any religion he/she wishes for, at least in theory (in practice it might be harder, depending on religion converting away from and which converting to). Basically what is meant, seen from practice, is that one has freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion. If you want to get married, it can only be through a religious court and according to your respective religion, rendering the choice of “no religion” void.

We are left with two problems already, when it comes to the nature of “freedom of religion”, since we see from the already mentioned that religion is not something you can choose to or from, it is forced on you, you can only choose which religion. And your choice of love is not free from you either, leaving anyone not accepted by your religion in the category of “no-go”.

This is a clear clash of Israeli family law and international human rights, but it doesn’t stop there. In case of divorce do we see the clash between the thought of equality, something Israel is claiming, and religious laws. In Judaism a man can give a declaration of divorce, with or without the acknowledgement of the woman, while the same is not the case does the woman want a divorce. There has been implemented ways of forcing the man to give the divorce, should he object, such as daily bills, loosing of drivers license and work license, and even imprisonment, but it is rarely enforced, since many rabbinical judges sees this as going contrary to Halachah, and such do not use this enforcement.

In case of Muslims a woman is ensured payment for a certain time, but it has been shown that Muslim women receive less than divorced Jewish and Christian women, which is another example of inequality.

This is of course problematic in a state, which calls itself Democratic, at least if we understand the “Democratic” as in securing equality and keeping human rights, rather just than “one man, one vote”.

As I pointed out in my last post, there are difference between the Jewish and the Muslim case, having examples overlapping between the two cases. For example does the Muslim man have more choices of spouse than the Jewish ditto.

Sezgin criticizes Israel’s embracing the Ottoman Millet system, both in terms of nation building, that is, as a tool used in order to create distinct groups, making it easier to control them, as well as in terms of human rights, criticizing the enforced religious rule on family and personal matters.

I see the problematic nature, at least in the latter case (I am not so sure we should be cynical about the choice of the Millet system, considering the challenging situation Israel found herself in at the establishment of the state, though Sezgin does refuse this excuse), but as shown from Hofri’s article in my last post, the religious are getting ground in Israel, and the consequence of the growing secularization of the Israeli legal system – which Sezgin doesn’t seem to acknowledge – does create the need, for the religious, for alternatives, which could end creating a split with the state, and the question is whether the state wants or can handle that challenge. And this is not only in case of Jews, but also the Muslims, where we see an Islamic Movement challenging the Shari’a Courts, something which most likely only will be strengthened, the more secular the state attempts to make law in Israel. We will later see that the Shari’a courts are attempting to remove any secular Israeli influence, in order to answer the challenge from the Islamic Movement, but should we get a pure secular family law in Israel, who will then take the religious marriages, and by that controlling part of the religious rituals?

I hope to be able to give some thoughts on the clash between human rights and religious courts later on, when I get more material covered. For now it will mostly be speculation and guesses, but again, I’m only sharing thoughts.

 

Take care out there.


[1] Brought in Israeli Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 631-654, 2010.

[2] Israel is the only country to acknowledge the Druzes as a distinct group from the Muslim majority group, something Sezgin argues is part of a strategy of dividing groups, in order to control the easier.


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  1. […] posted on A Jewish Voice on November 5, […]

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