The government restricted access to certain religious sites and implemented some policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law. The government investigated attacks on religious sites and prosecuted perpetrators. The perpetrator of a 2012 violent attack against a 62-year-old female Jehovah’s Witness targeted for her religious beliefs was indicted and prosecuted.
From July 8 to August 26, Israel conducted a military operation in response to increased rocket attacks from Gaza toward Israeli civilian areas beginning in late June, as well as militants’ attempts to infiltrate the country through tunnels from Gaza to commit terrorist acts. The government recognized a murdered Palestinian teenager as a victim of terrorism, granting his family compensation.
Dozens of persons, including minors, were arrested in connection to “price tag” attacks during the year, including attacks on Christian institutions before Pope Francis’ May visit. In April individuals slashed the tires of four cars and wrote slogans such as “Jesus is a cow” and “Mary is a monkey” on the walls of a Catholic monastery in Deir Rafat. In April the door of the Abu-Bakr Al-Siddiq mosque in Umm al-Fahm was set on fire and vandals wrote the words “Arabs out” on the mosque walls. There were multiple examples of Arab cars damaged or painted with a Star of David when parked in Jewish towns. The government designated “price tag” vandals as members of “illicit organizations” and a police unit specializing in nationalist crimes, including “price tag” attacks and attacks on places of worship, investigated these acts. Government officials quickly and publicly criticized the attacks. The police reported investigating all known instances of religiously motivated attacks and making arrests when possible. For example, in April police arrested three Jewish minors suspected of desecrating graves in a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. In May the attorney general said the law permits using administrative detention for “price tag” suspects, a practice widely used in cases of Palestinians arrested for security offenses but rarely applied to Israeli citizens. The prime minister, minister of justice, public security minister, and attorney general, as well as the CRIHL spoke out against “price tag” attacks. (The CRIHL is an umbrella body of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious institutions that includes the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry of Islamic Waqf (endowments), the PA sharia courts, and the leaders of the major Christian denominations in Jerusalem.
NGOs, religious institutions, and press reports stated that arrests for “price tag” attacks rarely led to successful prosecutions, many for lack of sufficient evidence. Some “price tag” perpetrators were sentenced, some investigations were ongoing, and some prosecutions were pending at year’s end. On December 21, the Lod District Court sentenced two men to 30 months in prison for perpetrating an arson attack motivated by racism, the most significant sentence handed down for “price tag” related violence to date.
On November 29, members of Lehava (an anti-intermarriage organization) set afire two first grade classrooms in the Arabic-Hebrew bilingual Max Rayne Hand in Hand school in West Jerusalem and scrawled graffiti with racist messages, including “Death to Arabs.” Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the attack, as did Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Housing Minister Uri Ariel in their visits to the school the following day. In December three members of Lehava were arrested and reportedly confessed to setting fire to the school. Police also arrested other Lehava members, including the organization’s leader Bentzi Gopstein on December 16, on charges of incitement to racism against non-Jews.
The MOI relied on the guidance of the Jewish Agency, a non-profit NGO with strong ties to the government, to determine who qualifies to immigrate as a Jew. Prospective immigrants routinely faced questioning about their religious beliefs to determine their qualifications for citizenship. MOI officials continued to deny citizenship or deny or delay services such as child registration and issuance of social benefits, identity cards, and passports to some citizens based on their religious beliefs, according to the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, an NGO. This included cases of individuals who immigrated under the Law of Return as Jews but were discovered to hold Messianic or Christian beliefs.
As in previous years, the MRS failed to fully implement a 1996 law which established the right of any individual to be buried in a civil ceremony. A September court ruling granted damages to citizens who wanted civil burials but were only offered religious burials, but found they were responsible for payment for burials outside of their municipality. There were 44 cemeteries that contained plots for people without religious status. The government employed civilian non-Jewish clergy as chaplains at military burials when a non-Jewish soldier died in service. The MOI provided imams to conduct funerals according to Muslim customs. All Jewish chaplains in the IDF were Orthodox.
The IDF sponsored expedited Orthodox Jewish conversion courses for Jewish soldiers who were not recognized as Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinical authorities.
The government continued to control access to the site referred to as Haram al-Sharif by Muslims (containing the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque) and the Temple Mount by Jews (who recognize it as the foundation of the first and second Jewish temples). The location has been under Israeli control since 1967 when Israel captured the eastern sector of the city (the Israeli government formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, and Israel applies its laws in East Jerusalem). The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a Jordanian-funded and administered Islamic trust and charitable organization, continued to administer the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. The government continued to prevent non-Muslim worship and prayer at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, although it ensured limited access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to everyone regardless of religious belief. This policy has repeatedly been upheld by the Supreme Court and was enforced by the police, who cite security concerns. The government instead directed Jewish worshippers to the Western Wall, the place of worship nearest the holiest site in Judaism. The Waqf restricted non-Muslims from entering the Dome of the Rock shrine and al-Aqsa Mosque and prohibited non-Muslim religious symbols from being worn on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (a practice enforced by the Israeli National Police).
The Israeli National Police (INP) was responsible for security at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, with police stationed both inside the site and outside each entrance. The INP conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza, regulated traffic in and out of the site, screened non-Muslims for religious paraphernalia, and generally prohibited them from praying publicly on the site. Israeli police had exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance – the only entrance through which non-Muslims could enter the site – and in general allowed visitors through the gate during set visiting hours, although the INP sometimes restricted this access, citing security concerns.
Citing security concerns, the Israeli government restricted access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount by Muslims from Jerusalem and the West Bank, frequently barring entry of male, and sometimes female, residents under the age of 50. The Israeli government in November stated the INP had imposed age restrictions 76 times until that point in the year, compared with 12 times in 2013 and three times in 2012. According to media reports, the Israeli government provided Muslims from Gaza very occasional access to the site, including permitting entry to 1,500 Muslim Gazans over 60 during Eid al-Adha on October 5, 6, and 7, and 200 Gazans on Fridays in December – primarily Muslims over 60. Israeli security authorities frequently restricted Muslim residents of Jerusalem from entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site for Friday prayer, and imposed age restrictions on male prayer on several days during Ramadan, including every Friday and on the Night of Destiny (Laylat al Qadr). On several days in August, Israeli police prohibited all Muslim women regardless of age from visiting the site during non-Muslim visiting hours. Israeli authorities cited altercations between specific groups of female worshippers and Jewish tourists attempting to break the injunction against non-Muslim prayer on site as a reason for these temporary blanket bans. Authorities infrequently closed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif entirely, often after skirmishes at the site between Palestinians and Israeli police. Following the October 29 shooting of an Israeli-American activist and a subsequent shootout in the Abu Tor neighborhood of East Jerusalem during which police killed the attacker during an arrest attempt, the INP on October 30, denied entry to the Temple Mount /Haram al-Sharif for all Muslims for a full day. Waqf officials described the closure as unprecedented since 1967, although some reports indicate the site was also completely closed to Muslims in 2000. On November 14, the government lifted all age restrictions on Muslims seeking to enter the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
A wide range of Muslim officials, including representatives of the Waqf, objected to Israeli-imposed access restrictions for Muslim worshippers to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and opposed calls from some Israeli groups to divide visiting hours between Muslims and non-Muslims and to allow non-Muslim prayer there. Waqf officials complained that Israeli police violated status quo agreements regarding control of access to the site, as the INP did not fully coordinate with the Waqf its decisions to allow non-Muslim visitors onto the site. Waqf employees were stationed inside each gate and on the plaza. They could object to the presence of particular persons, such as individuals dressed immodestly or causing disturbances, but they lacked the authority to remove persons from the site.
Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site, most frequently Jerusalem Islamic Waqf employees, and also barred Jewish activists who had repeatedly violated rules against non-Muslim prayer on the site, including members of Knesset (MKs). Israeli authorities banned all non-Muslim visitors to the site for the last two weeks of Ramadan, citing security concerns. Israeli reinforcement of the ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, as well as excavations in the immediate vicinity, continued during the year despite calls from the Islamic Waqf to coordinate any excavation or construction and concerns that the excavations could destabilize the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Israeli authorities briefly constructed a second ramp on the site in August, before removing it a few weeks later after criticism from the Waqf and Jordanian officials.
Many Jewish leaders continued to promote the view that Jewish law prohibited Jews from entering the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, a view strongly supported by the ultra-Orthodox or Haredi community. Increasing numbers of the “national religious” community, however, supported ascending to the site. Some prominent members of the ruling coalition in the Knesset called for reversing the policy of banning non-Muslim prayer at the site, and the Knesset’s Interior Committee held hearings to discuss the issue and press the INP to allow Jewish visitors to pray there. These discussions intensified following the October 29 attack on a Jewish activist (and U.S. citizen) well known for advocating Jewish prayer at the site. Some Israeli officials, including cabinet members, visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and issued statements asserting Israeli control over it. For example, on September 24, Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and stated, “the sovereignty over the Temple Mount is in our hands and we must strengthen it.” Some coalition members of the Knesset (MKs) and Israeli NGOs, such as the Temple Institute and Temple Mount Faithful, called on the Israeli government to implement a time-sharing plan at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif that would set aside certain hours for Jewish worship, similar to one used at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The Ministry of Tourism also reportedly was considering a plan to open another gate to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to non-Muslims – a move condemned by Muslim leaders as a change from the status quo at the site. Despite an Israeli High Court ruling stating that “Jews, even though their right to the Temple Mount exists and stands historically, are not permitted to currently actualize their right to perform public prayer on the Temple Mount,” the government considered international agreements with Jordan restricting Jewish prayer at the site to remain authoritative. The prime minister reiterated repeatedly his support for maintaining the status quo arrangement at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif – as did Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino – and following the October attack on a Jewish activist, specifically called on Knesset members and Israeli officials to avoid inflaming tensions through provocative actions such as visits to the site. MK Moshe Feiglin, however, visited the site several times following the attack, and the attorney general, on November 25, upheld the right of MKs to visit the site according to the visitation rules for members of the non-Muslim public.
Despite Israeli government prohibitions against non-Muslim worship at the site, some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration. The police then acted to prevent Jewish persons from praying and arrested those who did. Waqf officials criticized the visits. In some instances the visits sparked violence between Palestinians at the site who responded to the visits of Jews by directing violence – usually rocks and firecrackers – at the visitors and at the Israeli police, sometimes leading to clashes with the police. Jewish visits to the site increased compared to 2013, particularly during Jewish holidays in September and October. During this period, Israeli police at times imposed restrictions on Muslim and non-Muslim access to the site, for example on September 24, limiting access to Muslims under age 50. In several instances Israeli police prevented non-Muslim access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in anticipation of clashes. Israeli police also temporarily denied Muslims access to the site on at least one day during September to accommodate Jewish visits. Clashes sometimes occurred in areas of the Old City and East Jerusalem where Muslim worshippers who had been denied entry to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif had gathered to pray, such as on the last Friday of Ramadan when worshippers from Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz neighborhood, blocked from the Old City by Israeli police, prayed in the street, and then clashed with police after the conclusion of prayers. Following the U.S. Secretary of State’s November engagement with Palestinian, Jordanian, and Israeli leaders in Amman, all sides took significant steps to reduce tensions, and the government facilitated freer access for Muslims to the site.
The Western Wall, the place of worship nearest the holiest site in Judaism, was open to visitors from all religions during the year, and the Israeli government permitted Muslims and Christians to make individual prayers at the site. The rabbi of the Western Wall, appointed by the prime minister and chief rabbis, continued to set the guidelines for religious observance at the Western Wall, including the strict separation of women and men. The government continued to enforce this prohibition on mixed gender prayer services at the site on all visitors. Men and women at the Western Wall had to use separate areas to visit and pray, with the women’s section being less than half the size of the men’s section. Women were not permitted to bring a Torah scroll onto the plaza and were prevented from accessing the public Torah scrolls at the religious site. Women were permitted to pray with teffilin and prayer shawls pursuant to an April 2013 Jerusalem District Court ruling stating it was illegal to arrest or fine them for such actions. The police continued to assist Women of the Wall, an NGO and prayer group, in entering the women’s area of the Western Wall for their monthly service.
A platform, south of the Mughrabi ramp and adjacent to but not touching the Western Wall, was open to both men and women where each person could practice religious rituals as desired. The platform was equipped to accommodate approximately 450 worshippers and designated for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism. Non-Orthodox and mixed gender groups used this structure for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs.
A public debate about accommodating “egalitarian prayer,” i.e., men and women praying as they wished, continued throughout the year. Cabinet Secretary Mandelblit continued to chair a committee on “egalitarian prayer” at the Western Wall. The government developed plans to construct an “egalitarian prayer” space at the Robinson’s Arch area of the wall in accordance with a 2013 agreement between the government and Jewish groups dissatisfied with restrictions placed on prayer, including gender segregation and a prohibition on women singing out loud, or holding or reading from Torah scrolls. The government halted an effort to give administration of this new area to Elad (the City of David Foundation), an association dedicated to asserting Jewish presence in the Silwan area abutting the Old City. Some groups stated this compromise did not sufficiently accommodate women who wanted to lead prayers in a women-only setting.
Israeli police obstructed access through security checkpoints to the Old City’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre during major religious holidays, including the April 19 Orthodox Easter “holy fire” service and the April 20 Orthodox Easter holiday, which reduced Christians’ ability to enter Jerusalem and the Old City to participate in religious services. Christian leaders said these restrictions significantly reduced the ability of congregants and clergy to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Some Christians also noted, however, that restrictions on pilgrims and coordination with the Israeli police had improved compared to 2013. During busy periods the Israeli police site commander provided security for and facilitated access to the site, employing metal barricades and specially-designed fire extinguishers, and managing tensions among followers of different streams of Christianity at the site. Some Christians accused police of using excessive force during efforts to regulate crowds in the Old City during the Easter events.
Israeli government restrictions on movement between Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza limited the access of both Israelis and Palestinians to religious sites and gatherings. The Israeli government prohibited Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under the civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority (Area A). This restriction prevented Jewish Israelis from routinely visiting several Jewish religious sites, although the IDF occasionally provided security escorts for groups to visit selected Jewish religious sites. Beginning in 2009, the Israeli Ministry of Defense gradually lifted restrictions on Arab Israelis visiting Area A cities in the West Bank.
According to the government, travel to hostile countries, including travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, required a permit from the minister of interior or prime minister, and illegal travel was punishable by a prison sentence or fine if the traveler did not request prior approval. There were no reports of this requirement hindering the ability of citizens to participate in the Hajj.
The MRS upheld a complaint made against an advertising campaign for Yad L’Achim, an NGO opposed to missionary activity and intermarriage with Muslims, in which it promised that a prominent state-employed rabbi would pray for anyone who donates money to the group. According to the laws pertaining to the state civil service, it was forbidden for state employees to raise money for any organization or purpose other than for the state.
A Netanya court ruled that a public school was justified in refusing to rent an event hall to Jehovah’s Witnesses, saying that the “conduct” of the community “conflicts with the character of the school” which educates a majority Jewish population. The decision cited the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conscientious objection, “principled non-participation in State ceremonies,” avoidance of certain medical treatments, and other religious and theological beliefs that it said contradict the goal of state-sponsored education. An appeal of the decision was pending at year’s end.
According to the 2014 Religion and State Index published by Hiddush, a local NGO, 89 percent of secular Jewish Israelis, 80 percent of immigrants, and 61 percent of traditionally religious Jewish Israelis were unhappy with the policies of the Chief Rabbinate. Hiddush also reported that the majority of Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over fundamental aspects of their personal lives, particularly the right to marry, and public opinion polls showed a majority of Jewish citizens also supported the formal recognition of other strands of Judaism as valid, such as Reform and Conservative Judaism.
The government implemented some policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law. This system limited the personal freedom of individuals who otherwise would not subject themselves to the authority of a religious community, despite a 2013 IDI poll showing a majority of Israeli Jews supported equalizing the legal status of different denominations. For example, the only in-country Jewish marriages the government recognized were those performed by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which excluded citizens without maternal Jewish lineage since such persons are not considered Jewish according to halacha. Those who did qualify to marry under the Rabbinate were required to follow a strict procedure which included sessions with a rabbi and classes the bride was required to take to learn about her duties and responsibilities under halacha. Divorces also had to take place through the framework of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. According to CBS figures released in August, 2 percent fewer couples married or registered for marriage in country in 2012 and 5 percent more chose to wed abroad as compared with the prior year. One-fifth of the 7,698 couples who married outside Israel and then registered as married in Israel in 2012 were couples in which both spouses were Jewish. A total of 50,474 couples registered their marriages in 2012. In the case of Anna Varsanyi, despite being considered Jewish by the standards of the Rabbinate and having been married in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony in 2012, during the year the government refused to consider her Jewish because her mother had converted to Christianity. To marry in government-recognized ceremonies, Jews were required to undergo marriage counseling from Orthodox religious authorities.
The High Court has repeatedly ruled that the segregation of men and women on public streets and sidewalks in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea She’arim in Jerusalem was illegal, and that gender segregation on public buses could not be imposed or ordered. Authorities generally enforced the law. Communities that desired segregation on public transportation could do so voluntarily, but buses were required to post signs informing passengers they are free by law to sit in any available seat. In March a court convicted a Haredi man from Jerusalem of sexually harassing a female soldier because she was standing among a group of men on a public bus in 2012.
Following the attorney general’s 2013 adoption of the recommendations of a Ministry of Justice team established to investigate the exclusion of women in the public sphere (including by religious communities), in March several ministers introduced a proposal by which each ministry would be required to report to the government steps it took to prevent the exclusion of women. Also in March a government resolution declared that segregation of women constituted a serious negative phenomenon requiring governmental action; the government required all local authorities to ensure segregation of women did not occur in public events, funerals, public transportation, or any other area of the public sphere.
According to government figures, the year’s budget for religious services for the Jewish population, including funding for religious councils, salaries for religious personnel, funding for the development of cemeteries, and funding for the construction of synagogues and ritual baths, was approximately 344.1 million new Israeli shekels (NIS) ($88.7 million). Religious minorities, which constituted slightly more than 20 percent of the population, received approximately NIS 66.2 million ($17.1 million), which included NIS 6.7 million ($1.7 million) for development of religious sites and structures and 3.76 million ($968,800) for the development of non-Jewish cemeteries. Allocation of a special budget for the restoration of Arab religious sites, including a special budget for maintaining Muslim cemeteries, was pending at year’s end. Some Muslims stated there was insufficient state funding for Muslim affairs, including for building and restoring mosques and cemeteries, although the state provided municipalities with religious development budgets and religious institutions with operational support funds. Many mosques lacked an appointed imam, a responsibility of the MOI’s Muslim Affairs Department. The government allowed non-state employees to be imams in mosques if the community preferred.
The State Attorney’s Office in 2012 adopted a High Court recommendation that the state pay the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis in rural areas. Following a December 2013 High Court ruling that the MRS ease the funding conditions for activities by the Reform and Conservative communities, the government, through a mechanism whereby funding is routed through the Ministry of Culture and Sport, began paying the salary of a non-Orthodox rabbi for the first time. The government also provided funding for non-Orthodox Jewish religious institutions, which it designated “seminaries,” according to the Israeli Religious Action Center.
The government provided resources to both religious and nonreligious schools. The government subsidized between 55 and 100 percent of the operating costs of recognized Haredi schools, which were required to teach a corresponding percentage of the national curriculum, with many schools receiving funding for all operating costs from the government. Government resources available for religious or heritage studies to Arab and non-Orthodox Jewish public schools were significantly less than those available to Orthodox Jewish public schools. Public and private Arab schools offered studies in both Islam and Christianity, but state funding for such studies was proportionately less than the funding for religious education courses in Jewish schools.
Although Arab, Christian, and Muslim citizens were exempt from compulsory military service, the government began sending letters to Christian citizens encouraging them to volunteer for service to increase their participation in the military, and in September the prime minister recorded a video message encouraging Christian pro-military service groups.
The government launched a nationwide campaign to implement a 2007 MOI decision to eliminate “national identification” on official identity cards in response to complaints that the majority of identity cards still in circulation identified non-Jews. The new identity cards noted only name and birthday. Religious identification was listed in the central population registry. A petition to require the government to issue official birth documents listing both parents’ names, even when one was not Jewish, remained pending before the High Court of Justice, and birth certificates still regularly omitted the names of non-Jewish fathers.
On September 17, the Minister of Interior ordered the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority to allow Christians to register as Aramean instead of Arab as their national or ethnic group. Many church leaders complained that the measure was aimed at dividing the Arab minority, while a small number of Christians applauded the decision.
The government was a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The government participated in the OSCE Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism.