The Sad Movement Toward Theocracies in America and Israel

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Two of the countries I most care about—The United States and Israel—are creeping toward becoming theocracies with conservative, repressive, anti-egalitarian laws more in concert with rigid Islamic nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Depression hardly describes my mental response to this dual tragedy. I’ll repeat a statement I made February 16 in a previous blog: “A nation cannot claim democratic values while denying rights to those within its areas of jurisdiction.” That statement was written about Israel’s protracted Palestinian problem. (Read the previous posting for my earlier thoughts: But it applies to the current crisis as well.

Sunday, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s government reneged on an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall. It capitulated to extremism from right wing, ultra Orthodox members of his coalition, thus challenging the Jewish legitimacy of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, secular and unaffiliated Jews throughout Israel and the Diaspora. Even Orthodox Jews not recognized by the Haredi ultra Orthodox would have their standing and actions questioned. (

Reaction has been swift and negative from the affected groups. It threatens to undermine support for Israel (

In Israel’s multi-party parliament, the Knesset, religious parties have long held power disproportionate to their size because they often are the linchpin of a majority government. When the continuation of his coalition has been threatened by the demands of religious parties, Netanyahu has been willing to forsake basic rights a majority of Israelis should possess. Even after Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled against the religious right, Netanyahu has supported overturning court decisions (yes, the Knesset can do that in Israel) to preserve his hold on the prime minister’s office.

The religious right’s outsized influence on Israeli life—control over officially recognized marriage, divorce, conversion, burial and transportation—originated at the start of the state in 1948.

The secular leaning David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, ceded religious authority to the chief rabbinate. Today’s ultra Orthodox rabbinate is far different than its predecessors. It is now backed by religious political parties whose values are not shared by most Jews in Israel and around the world.

Here in the United States, extremist views threaten to undercut equality and civil rights. The Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear a case from Colorado. A baker is appealing a decision that faulted him for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. He claimed providing the cake would violate his religious beliefs.

The danger of the baker’s winning a judgment from the Supreme Court is that it could open the door to more discrimination based on religious grounds. Could other businesses or organizations claim their religions prohibited them from serving non caucasians, or non Christians? Once one group is legally excluded from equal service or opportunity, it is a slippery slope toward permitting discrimination based on “religious values.”

Donald Trump is rewarding evangelicals for their support of his candidacy and now his presidency. He wants to do away with a rule that prohibits tax-exempt entities from engaging in political campaigns or endorsing candidates from the pulpit. It would make it easier for other religious groups, as well, to advance their chosen candidates. Hasidic sects, for example, often vote as one in cult-like fashion for the politician favored by their rebbes.

As the debate over the repeal and replacement of Obamacare reaches a crescendo this week, it is noteworthy to recall that earlier this year Jerry Falwell Jr., the evangelical president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, praised Trump for trying to get rid of Obamacare.

One wonders how Falwell could be considered a good man of faith for siding with regressive government over alleviating the suffering of the poor and afflicted? How could any religious person fail to support universal health care or the closest program we have to it? How can they reconcile what god or Jesus instructed about compassion for and aid to the needy (the ultimate objective of Obamacare) with their opposition to a government mandate? Are they willing to support legislation that would strip more than 20 million people of health care coverage thereby inevitably leading to unnecessary poverty and deaths?

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