Welcome to Alabama

A man rapes his young daughter, impregnating her. The new laws passed in Alabama and in Missouri bar her from undergoing an abortion in these states. A wealthy, well-connected woman will be able to arrange an abortion for herself. A frightened teen can expect difficulties that in some cases will continue throughout her life. A handmaid’s tale.

These are the “family values” of the Christian right in the United States. A direct line leads from them to the demands in the coalition negotiations of MK Bezalel Smotrich. It’s a global movement: In the United States, a war is being waged against access to abortion and birth control; in Erdogan’s Turkey, women are being covered up; Israel’s National Union champions are “strengthening the family.”

There’s a division of labor in the religious coercion camp: Agudat Yisrael was put in charge of draft evasion and closing down the country on Shabbat; Shas got responsibility for the state budget and the Interior Ministry, and the Union of Right-Wing Parties – the Kahanists and ultra-Orthodox Zionists – was put in charge of us, Israel’s secular Jews. Its goal: to drill “faith and values” into us and to bolster our “family resilience.” We, in their eyes, are hollow and licentious. They begin the conversion process at ground level. As they see it, the Education Ministry is theirs by law.

Like all backward people, they’re obsessed with sex. Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson reported that in the talks to join the governing coalition, the Union of Right-Wing Parties is demanding the establishment of a males-only service path for religious Zionist army recruits, and the reevaluation of the opening of combat roles to females. Smotrich, the homophobe who organized the 2006 “Beast Parade” to counter the Jerusalem pride parade, is willing to fight to the death against any relationship that is not between a man and a woman.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg: The “right” couple must consist of two Jews, certified as such by the Chief Rabbinate, and marriage is mandatory – through the Rabbinate, of course. According to the demands submitted by the extremist alliance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the government must also take action to reduce the divorce rate. Couples who complete marriage counseling, for a period of time specified by a rabbinical court, will receive tax benefits.

In other words, the government will pay to impose “shlom bayit,” marital harmony, on married couples. The extortion that accompanies the proceedings in the religious courts will now have the imprimatur of state financial aid.

Jewish religious law governing personal and family status are an infinite reservoir of women’s oppression and humiliation. What halakha has to say about non-Jews, secular Jews and homosexuality is even worse. Israeli law, inasmuch as it moved away from religious law, granted equal rights to women, in sharp contrast to halakha, in areas such as inheritance law, for example. The Union of Right-Wing Parties wants to return the family to the Dark Ages when religious law ruled.

In Israel, religion is part of the machinery of government. The intolerable mixing of religion and the state places great pressure on secular identity. Israel promises freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion.    Entire government ministries and agencies are devoted to it – starting with the education system, which puts enormous efforts into destroying secular identity and depicting it as hollow and reckless.

The time has come to report for duty: Religious coercion has no future, neither for secular people nor for moderate religious people, who are the first to suffer as a result of extremism. This is a secular battle for progress, wisdom, equality and free thought. If we do not courageously recognize our secularism, which is full to bursting with cultural and intellectual values, the spirit of Smotrich will impose the laws of Alabama and of Tehran on Israel.

Published in Ha'aretz.