Avraham Poraz, our secular “Zionist” minister of the interior, is a modern man untrammelled by bigotry and superstition. His revulsion to religious values is directed against his own people’s faith, Judaism; one does not recall him expressing offensive remarks about the religious rituals of other people.
His contempt for Jewish ritual was manifested even before his appointment as interior minister. How else would one judge an Israeli politician congratulating the Dutch government for moving toward a ban on Jewish ritual slaughter – shehita? The ban was never imposed because, unlike Poraz, the Dutch authorities concluded that such a move would cause anguish to the vast majority of Dutch Jews and be regarded in many quarters as an anti-Semitic initiative.
On being elected, Poraz moved rapidly to dispel any suggestion that he would abide by the understanding between Shinui and the National Religious Party to make every effort to resolve differences in the religious arena by consensus. Neither party was to try to unilaterally alter the status quo in religious affairs, yet Poraz’s forays into the vexed area of conversions have been anything but consensual. For example, his announcement that those undergoing Orthodox conversions in Israel would no longer automatically qualify for citizenship caused an instant furor. By this act he created a rare instance in which Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Zionists joined in denouncing his initiative for undermining one of the pillars of the Jewish state and Zionism.
After a bitter debate, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intervened and overruled Poraz’s edict. However, Poraz made it clear where his preferences lay by announcing his intention to grant automatic citizenship to children of foreign workers. He followed this by indulging in some cheap populism – granting citizenship to foreign footballers invited onto Israeli teams – despite a recommendation to the contrary by the attorney-general.
Last month our enlightened minister of the interior announced a new initiative which smacks of racism. He disqualified the Bnei Menashe, halachicly converted Indians claiming to trace their Jewish ancestry back to the 10 lost tribes of Israel, from inclusion under the Law of Return.
AS HILLEL Halkin, himself a secular Jew, recently observed: “Poraz is one of many secular Israelis who deep in [his] heart, thinks so little of Judaism and has such a low opinion of its attractions” – that he has an “equally low estimate of anyone wishing to belong to it as his faith, and with it, the Jewish people as his family.”
When Shinui and the NRP joined the Sharon government, there was widespread anticipation and hope that both parties would bring about a change in the explosive relationship between the Orthodox and the non-observant which, over the years, has created so much damage to the social fabric of life in Israel. One of the key players in this area would, by definition, have to be the minister of the interior. But far from easing the polarization between religious and non-observant, Poraz has deliberately inflamed the situation and intensified the tensions.
In a move breaching his party’s undertakings, Poraz has spearheaded action to commercialize Shabbat, and on Passover he denied individual municipalities the right to prohibit the sale of bread.
The man whose role is intended to strengthen unity has accelerated polarization and emerged as infinitely more bigoted than any of his predecessors, including those from Shas.
Revelling in provocative statements to offend traditional Jews, he went on radio during the Fast of Tammuz to say that Jews concerned about the destruction of the Temple nearly 2,000 years ago were being absurd. Such Poraz outbursts have become regular events, and many people now simply ignore them. But their impact on a society still reeling from post-Zionist indoctrination should not be underestimated.
Poraz is clearly unaware that a people that belittles its past is destabilizing its future. Every scoff, ridicule and abuse of Jewish values contributes toward the undermining of our people’s identity and history.
Poraz also serves as a role model for ignorant youngsters who regard his foul remarks about Jewish tradition and heritage as slick.
I cannot recollect a senior minister who has behaved so disgracefully, who has so systematically debased and offended Jewish tradition and thereby a large proportion of the Jewish people. We are entitled to expect a modicum of civility from our ministers. In any other Western society, a minister indulging in such offensive behavior toward his constituents would have been sacked.
Shinui head Tommy Lapid told me on a number of occasions that his prime aim was to revoke the preferential haredi privileges extorted by political leverage. But beyond that he insisted that he had every intention of respecting and cooperating harmoniously with all Israelis, including religious Zionists, whom he admired.
Lapid must therefore insist that Avraham Poraz control his tongue. Sharon must do the same. And if his minister continues to behave in such an irresponsibly offensive manner, he must show him the door.