State Dept issues Int’l Religious Freedom Report for 2011, criticizing Israel’s policy of barring non-Muslims from worshiping at Temple Mount • Israel Police cite “security considerations” for doing so.
By Shlomo Cesana
A U.S. State Department report published on Wednesday criticizes Israel for allowing only Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The report, the “International Religious Freedom Report for 2011,” states that Israeli government policy is to grant freedom of religious expression to all, but despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling, police continue to prevent many people from praying in the area due to what they say are “security considerations.”
“While the government ensured limited access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to everyone regardless of religious beliefs, only Muslims are allowed to pray at the site, although their access has been occasionally restricted due to security concerns,” the report says. “Police regulated traffic in and out of the compound and removed non-Muslim visitors if they appeared to be praying … Non-Muslim religious symbols are not allowed to be worn on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”
The report also criticizes the fact that only Muslims are allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock and the area around the Al-Aqsa mosque. “Since 2000, the Jordanian Waqf that manages the site has restricted non-Muslims from entering the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the report states.
The opening paragraph of the report praises the Israeli government for its policies on religious freedom in the country, but it also denounces religious discrimination against various groups in Israeli society.
“While there is no formal constitution, laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom,” the report says. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty protects religious freedom. The Basic Law describes the country as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which promises religious freedom and full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation.”
“Government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion, although governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued, and some laws and policies promoted certain Orthodox Jewish values over those of other religious beliefs.”
Some of the criticism is leveled directly at the Interior Ministry for blocking the entry of some tourists on religious grounds. “Some tourists were temporarily detained for religious reasons at Ben-Gurion Airport, prevented from entering the country, and sent back to their countries of origin because of the MOI’s [Ministry of the Interior's] ‘suspicions of missionary activity,’” the report says.
The report also addresses Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and ultra-Orthodox parties’ pressure on the government: “A minority of Jews in the country observes the Orthodox tradition, and the majority of Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over fundamental aspects of their personal lives.”
Commenting on this aspect of the report, Rabbi Uri Regev, executive director of Hiddush, a religious pluralism organization, said: “It would be best for leaders of Zionist parties to understand the urgent need to establish a civilian government that would work to advance Israeli values as a Jewish and democratic state.”
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=5348