Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
MKs Simcha Rothman and Orit Strock in the Knesset plenum, May 9, 2022.

MK Orit Strock (Religious Zionism) on Sunday broke the cardinal rule: Thou shalt not answer hypothetical questions. She was later joined by MK Simcha Rothman who should also know better. As expected, this provided all of RZP’s enemies from the left and the right, including Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, with a priceless opportunity to show just how liberal and progressive they are, compared to the settlers from the dark ages.

It goes to show you that reformers must use discretion and patience, and whenever possible avoid interviews on left-leaning media. They don’t need the interview to promote their legislation, and there are better avenues to educate their own voters. I’m writing this as a free speech maximalist, but also as a committed supporter of the reforms that have been proposed by Bezalel Smotrich, Simcha Rothman, and Orit Strock.

Adir Zik 1939-2005. / Flash90
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The late Adir Zik used to bewail what he called the “defective chip” of religious Zionists. We are so eager to be loved, or at least understood by secular Jews, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot.

Here’s what happened this morning:

MK Strock went on Reshet Bet Radio and was asked by the host to explain her party’s proposed amendment to the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services, and Entry to Entertainment and Public Places, 5761-2000 Act.

The act says: “Those who are engaged in the provision of a public product or service or the operation of a public place, shall not discriminate in the provision of the public product, or service, in granting entry to a public place, or in the provision of a service in the public place, based on race, religion or religious group, nationality, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, views, party affiliation, age, personal status, parentage, or wearing the uniforms of the security and rescue forces or wearing their symbols.”

However, according to the same law, it will not be considered discrimination if a local municipality distinguishes between its residents and non-residents, to the extent required for the performance of its duties or the exercise of its powers for the benefit of its residents.

In the same vein, the proposed RZP amendment is three-pronged: stop defining gender segregation as discrimination; allow construction of neighborhoods for the religious community only; and allow an individual the right to avoid actions that go against their belief. That last part pertains, in practice, to a doctor refusing to participate in an abortion or a sex-change procedure.

Try to sell it as a reasonable idea to a leftist radio host on one of Israel’s most popular stations. You might as well try to explain a shul mechitza to Betty Friedan.

Eager to convince the host of her righteous intentions, MK Strock argued: “As long as there are enough other doctors who can provide a service – it is forbidden to force a doctor to give treatment that is against their religious position.” Then she added: “We need to stop treating Jewish law as something less valuable. A country’s book of laws reflects its moral code.”

MK Rotman was also interviewed and was asked if, under the proposed amendment, a religious hotel owner could refuse to host a group of gays, and Rothman replied: “If it’s against your faith and it harms your religious feelings, and it’s your private hotel, the answer is yes.”

Rothman then tried to explain that the amendment “does not seek to abolish the prohibition against discrimination,” only to state that “when there a person is religiously prohibited from performing a certain action, they will be allowed not to provide the service and not be forced to do something contrary to their faith.”

Everybody jumped on them, from Meretz to Bibi. Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu condemned Strock’s statement, saying: “MK Orit Strock’s words are unacceptable to me and my Likud friends. The coalition agreements do not allow LGBT people to be discriminated against nor to harm their rights to receive services like any citizen in Israel. Likud will ensure that there will be no harm to LGBT people or the rights of any Israeli citizens.”

Yair Lapid tweeted: “Netanyahu is weak and leading us to a dark halachic state. He does not even condemn these dark statements because he is unable to.”

He posted it shortly after Netanyahu had done just that, but, you know, so what?

Outgoing Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, whose party, Meretz, is a relic of history, tweeted that “the intention to introduce discrimination into the health care system and medical care based on origin, skin color, religion, or gender is shuddering.” He also said that “discrimination against caregivers and patients is in complete opposition to the basic rules of the health system and of a sane human society.”

Here’s a crucial note: the proposed amendment is part of Netanyahu’s signed coalition agreements with both RZP and UTJ. He knew all about it and gave his consent. But as soon as Strock and Rothman made a big deal out of it, they forced his hand.

Here’s a crucial question: have you heard any Haredi politician going on the air to defend the bill, which would be in much greater use by Haredim than the national religious? No. Because Haredi politicians, for the most part, don’t need to be loved by secular Israelis and don’t feel compelled to explain anything. We’ve learned from our sages that for an effort to succeed it should be kept secret for as long as possible.

The reason I’m so vehement here is not that I’m a great supporter of discrimination and segregation. Frankly, in most cases, I couldn’t care less. But we have voted in a group of serious lawmakers whose job it is to work hard to use this historic window of opportunity to pass several substantial reforms to make Israel stronger and free from Bolshevik repression. So, they should work hard and keep their mouths shut. This time, they may have lost Likud’s support for a rational bill that only extends an already existing clause in the law permitting municipalities to segregate between residents and non-residents in providing services.

Please, don’t mess up anymore, RZP lawmakers. No more idle interviews. Be a little more like the Haredim. You don’t have to please anyone, you only have to win.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.