Religious freedom bill shot down in Knesset vote

Constitutional law that would have allowed for civil and gay marriage is defeated in preliminary reading

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Meretz MK Zehava Galon. December 25, 2013. (Photo credit: Flash 90)
Meretz MK Zehava Galon. December 25, 2013. (Photo credit: Flash 90)

A bill that aimed to formally separate between religion and state in Israel was rejected by a 56 to 21 margin in its preliminary reading in the Knesset on Monday.

The Freedom of Religion and Conscience bill, sponsored by Meretz MK Zahava Gal-on, aimed to block discrimination on religious grounds and allow for civil marriage regardless of race, sex, citizenship, and religion. The legislation also pushed for the right to determine one’s own means of burial. The bill was submitted as a Basic Law, one of a set of laws that form the constitutional underpinning for Israeli legislation.

“Israel has undergone many crises as a result of the existing vagueness in this area,” Gal-on wrote in the bill’s explanatory text. “Today the lack of clear boundaries between the public realm and the realm of freedom of conscience and religion threatens the viability of Israel as a democratic state as well as its Jewish character.”

Likud-Beytenu MK Yitzhak Aharonovitch responded to Gal-on on behalf of the Knesset. “The proposal seeks to add to the existing Basic Laws,” Aharonovitch said. “The government opposes the bill. Freedom of religion and conscience is a fundamental right in the State of Israel. That said, the government does not support its present formulation.”

Aharonovitch stressed that discussions of a potential Basic Law regulating religion and state should continue, with a revised version to be resubmitted at a later date.

In her remarks before the reading, Gal-on slammed Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who she said avoided the larger issues facing the LGBT community. She commented on Lapid’s dogged pursuit of equal tax credits for same-sex male couples, which passed its first reading in the Knesset earlier on Monday.

“We were witnesses earlier to a farce,” Gal-on said. “The finance minister lied to the Knesset and is avoiding answering. Instead of addressing the problem in its entirety, [they] address tax benefits.”

The tax credit bill, proposed by Yesh Atid MK Adi Kol, was initially vetoed by the Jewish Home on the grounds that it undermines the religious status quo and paves the way for civil marriage. But after meetings held between Lapid and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, the two reached an agreement and pushed the bill forward. However, conflicting versions of the final agreement have emerged, with members of the Jewish Home claiming that all mention of same-sex couples will be omitted from the final draft, while Lapid remains evasive on the specific concessions he made in in order to advance the bill.

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