President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday welcomed Israel’s newest qadis (Muslim judges), telling them that the existence of state-supported Muslim religious courts highlights Israel’s commitment to upholding religious freedom and diversity.
“The authority of the sharia courts – as assured by Israeli law — to me reflects the fundamental principle that an attachment to faith, to tradition, to a culture and community, is not solely the issue of the individual,” Rivlin told the seven new qadis, who are appointed to sharia courts across the country, during a ceremony at his official Jerusalem residence.
“Such affiliations are a basic right of a citizen in a democracy, and accordingly it is the obligation of the state to support and nurture them,” he said.
Israel’s sharia courts, Rivlin said, demonstrate “the recognition of the unparalleled importance of the vitality of communities, cultures and traditions to the fabric of the life in the modern state.”
After appointing the seven new qadis last month, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said it was the largest number of Islamic judges ever to be selected at once, and the first time new selections were made since 2009.
In December last year, Knesset members from the Zionist Union and Meretz parties along with the Joint (Arab) List faction proposed a bill that would allow female appointees to serve on the state’s Islamic courts.
Despite Shaked’s support for the bill, the legislation was blocked by ultra-Orthodox ministers on the grounds that it would set a legal precedent for the appointment of female rabbinical judges in Israel’s religious Jewish courts.
Shaked, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony, referred to the failed legislative effort in her address, noting that female judges serve on sharia courts elsewhere in the Muslim world, including in the Palestinian Authority.
“There is no reason why Israel, as a democratic and progressive state, would not align itself with these important winds of change, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, which sets forward that the state would be based upon equal rights for all its citizens regardless of religion, race, or sex,” she said.
In his speech, Rivlin also touched on the vetoed bill, saying he looked forward to inducting both female and male qadis at the next such ceremony.
However, until such amendments are made to the selection guidelines, Rivlin expressed the hope that the new appointees would be “granted the ability to build bridges between the tradition and rulings of sharia, and between the understanding that men and women are equal in every way.”
Rivlin, whose father Yosef translated the the Quran into Hebrew for the first time in 1936, quoted from the Muslim holy text in his closing remarks: “Indeed, did We send Our apostles with all evidence of truth; and through them We bestowed revelation from on high, and gave you a balance [wherewith to weigh right and wrong], so that men might behave with equity.”