Thursday, October 26, 2006

Arab Zionists?

Arab members of Israel's Labor Party are up in arms over the possibility of Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Our Home party joining the government:

I won't comment on the merits or lack thereof of this expansion of the coalition. But I will comment on another aspect of this situation: there exist Arab members of a mostly Jewish, yes Zionist, political party. In other words, Arab Zionists! There are actually Arabs who support the existence of a Zionist state in the Land of Israel!!!

How many are there? Well, the voting in Israel contains roughly twice as many Arabs as the so-called "Arab parties" have seats in the Knesset. So a substantial fraction of Israel's Arab citizens are voting either for Jewish parties -- either Zionist or Charedi. Would that there be more! But their very existence puts to bed the idea that all Arabs want to drive all Jews into the Great Sea.

I am under no illusions as to the political leanings of most Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza -- the recent elections in which terrorist organizations (Hamas and Fatah) received the overwhelming majority of votes should have convinced anyone not already convinced. But for Israel's Arab citizens, that does not appear to be the case. Both Israel, and Jews around the world, should express appreciation for this non-Jewish support even more than we express appreciation for the support of non-Jews here in America. If all Arabs could become Zionists, we would have peace -- and maybe Mashiach as well.


The actions of Nicaragua's legislature should cause Jews who identify with the so-called "pro-life" movement to pause and reflect as to what their allies are up to. It just banned all abortions. Period. If continuing a pregancy means death for the mother, it doesn't matter -- she has to die:

This of course is in conflict with halachah, which gives priority to the mother's life. And my Catholic friends tell me that this actually isn't consistent even with Catholic teaching, which treats the mother's life as equal to that of a newly fertilized embryo, not inferior to it. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it is entirely possible that so-called "pro-life" activists will outdo themselves to pass the strictest prohibitions possible and they will likely suceed in the majority of states. And this is not good.

New Jersey Court's Decision Not As Bad As It Seems

For gay rights activists, the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision yesterday might seem like a positive development. For those who haven't read the decision, the court decided that the state cannot deny benefits to same-sex couples if it affords those benefits to opposite-sex couples. However, the court stopped short of requiring an expansion of the definition of marriage to include gay couples, and only forced the legislature to create a legal regime that would provide equal benefits to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Gay rights activists won a victory without having to convince the legislature or the people of anything.

However, the decision is not as favorable as it seems. Remember that New Jersey's courts are notoriously liberal, probably more than New York. If any court outside of Massachusetts was going to require same-sex marriage, it was going to be New Jersey.

Supporters of SSM often make a number of arguments and the court rejected most of them:

First they argue that due process requires recognizing a right of marriage broad enough to encompass SSM. While the NJ court recognized a right to marriage (a right also found in the federal Constitution according to the Supreme Court), it did not find a right to SSM. In other words the court viewed the question at a lower level of generality, viewing the right as a narrow right of same-sex couples to marry, a right obviously not found in any American constitution.

Second, they also argue that bans on SSM are inherently discriminatory on the basis of gender. The argument goes like this: Tom can marry Sally but Jane cannot, and the only reason why Jane cannot is because of her gender. Therefore the discrimination is on the basis of gender.

In my mind this is the best argument gay activists have. I only skimmed the decision, but the court seems to have ignored this entire construction and considered the issue one of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Third, the court also rejected the argument that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is discriminatory. They severed the benefits of marriage from marriage itself and allowed other arrangements to rectify the discrimination.

At most they recognized that same-sex and opposite-sex couples are similarly situated and cannot be distinguished on traditional grounds. Obviously I disagree, but this ruling is fairly narrow.

Moreover the political ramifications might be negative for gay rights activists. Legislatures don't like being told what to do and NJ's will probably just do the minimal amount to fulfill the court's ruling. In other words, they'll probably create civil unions but not allow SSM. In the absence of a court decision requiring them to fix this problem, they might have allowed SSM, considering how a majority of the state supports it. This ruling might create a backlash in a fairly liberal state.

Lastly, this ruling is really just another arrow in the heart of the gay rights movement's attempt to get the courts to impose SSM. Despite lawsuits in numerous states, only one has recognized SSM and only Vermont and NJ will have civil unions because of their courts. Only one court accepted the gender discrimination argument (and Hawaii then passed an amendment to ban SSM), and none has recognized a due process right to marry. Since Goodridge, two large liberal states have rejected their arguments totally (New York and Washington) and only one has accepted their weakest argument. Things seem to be moving backwards for them.

I hope they realize that the litigation strategy is failing and try to move through more democratic means.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Government aid could require Jewish schools to admit non-Jews

A Jerusalem Post article reports that the British government is considering instituting a requirement that religious schools that receive public funding reserve some of their spaces for children from other religions.

The major governmental lobbying effort, mostly unsuccessful, of Orthodox institutions in the US over the past 40 years has been to obtain government aid for our day schools. This situation in Britain shows that there would be a potential downside if such efforts ever succeed. There is absolutely nothing that would prevent a government agency from attaching strings to aid in the US that would require Jewish schools here to accept non-Jews, probably on an equal access basis rather than with a quota. This is an issue that does not affect Christians and Muslims because they WANT to teach non-Christians and non-Muslims about their religion in order to get people to convert. Judaism, however, does not actively seek converts and in fact sets limits on teaching torah to non-Jews. This is a serious issue and I don't understand why it has not received more attention; maybe we are just resigned to the fact that we will never get such aid in the first place?

UPDATE: Haaretz reports that the British government approved this proposal. A Haredi principal, Rabbi Abraham Pinter, says he will drop government funding rather than accept the government's mandate. Interestingly, he says that his school is a an example "successful inclusion of the Haredi community in British society", which shows that not all haredim are isolationist (which I knew already).

FURTHER UPDATE: The British government has reversed itself and dropped the plan, but the debate isn't over yet. Details from the BBC.