Let the Government Govern

The Knesset building, Yerushalayim, Israel.

In December 2015, the government of Israel voted to open up the public sector to chareidim. Until then, it talked big about the need to integrate chareidim into the workplace, but did little about it, hiring precious few for the thousands of positions it has to offer in its various ministries.

As a result of that breakthrough decision, the Civil Service Commission set up a course to prepare chareidim for government work.

The first course was launched in January, for 20 men. Another is set to open in June, for women. Therein lies the “problem.”

The Israel Women’s Network determined that gender-separate classes are inherently discriminatory and therefore illegal, and filed suit in labor court. The petition should have been summarily dismissed, for several obvious reasons.

One, the government has every right to encourage chareidim to enter the workforce, in both the private and public sectors, as part of its policy of increasing their representation in the workforce. And since chareidi men will not participate in a preparatory course together with women, in concert with their religious beliefs, the government had every right to provide them with suitable classes.

Two, a women’s-only class is already in the pipeline. To argue that the government is discriminatory, when it will be giving women the exact same curriculum as the men, is nonsense.

Three, chareidi women, whose equal rights the Israel Women’s Network are supposed to be protecting, also want gender-separate classes. So if they don’t feel discriminated against, who is the Israel Women’s Network to come and file a petition on their behalf?

Not surprisingly, Yerushalayim Labor Court Judge Rachel Barag-Hirshberg ruled in favor of IWN’s petition. She ordered the government to place at least 10 women in the current course, or else suspend the course entirely.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the judge found that the Civil Service Commission had decided on gender-separate classes “without any evidentiary basis or examination of alternatives.”

Does the judge know so little about the chareidi world and its values that she requires “evidentiary basis” to justify separate classes?

“In evaluating the gender of a candidate as a [criterion] for being accepted for employment, the state injured the basic right of women to equality and in so doing, equal employment opportunities,” the judge wrote. What the judge somehow fails to recognize is that by insisting on “equality” in the Civil Service Commission’s preparatory course, she is denying women the chance to get good jobs and prove themselves in the work place.

Secular, leftist groups like the Israel Women’s Network, sponsored in part by the New Israel Fund, need to make up their minds. Do they want chareidi men and women in the workplace or not? If they do, as they’ve consistently maintained, then they need to stop trying to impose their ideas about “discrimination” on a society that has its own hallowed traditions. Just as they wouldn’t dream of attempting social engineering on the Bedouins, they must back off when it comes to the chareidim.

But the knee-jerk liberals are only part of the problem. The main issue, which plagues Israel on so many different levels, is the propensity of the courts to usurp the power of elected officials. If once it was only the Supreme Court that appropriated for itself that right, now we see labor court justices getting into the act.

The courts have consistently overruled the government in its attempts to deal with the burgeoning problem of illegal migrant workers. On Sunday, in response to a petition by human rights groups, the courts ordered the government to release more than 200 migrants from the Saharonim detention facility.

Most egregious, the courts have repeatedly rejected attempts by the government and Knesset to anchor in law the status quo agreement that allows full-time yeshivah students to defer their military service. The court ruled that the Tal Law was discriminatory and then, last year, that a law gradually increasing the number of chareidi inductees was likewise discriminatory.

The burning issue in the political arena this week is passage of a bill that would allow the Knesset to override the courts when the courts scrap a law as illegal. The bill is supported by most members of the coalition, with the exception of Kulanu leader Moshe Kachlon, who will only agree to such legislation as applied to the issue of illegal migrants.

There is no logic to Kachlon’s position. The basis for overruling the court is to reassert the independence and authority of the Knesset and to reestablish the proper balance between the judiciary and the legislative branches of government.

If so, there is no reason to limit it to the matter of illegal migrants. Anytime the court overreaches, the Knesset must have the wherewithal to push back. Elected officials must be able to govern without the tyranny of the courts.

That’s democracy.