Following his party's advancement of the civil marriage bill, Finance Minister and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid addressed the issue of religion and state Tuesday at the Prime Minister's Conference on Partnership and Growth at Tel Aviv University, which dealt with the integration of minorities into the economy.
"Other countries solved this problem by declaring a separation between religion and state. That will not happen in Israel," he said. "It will not happen here because Israel -- unlike other countries -- is not just a place, it is also an idea. It was established after the world proved time after time, century after century, victim after victim, blood after blood, that we have no other place to go."
According to Lapid, the fundamental problem, to which there is no solution, is the definition of Israel as a Jewish democracy. "At meetings like this, it is customary to hide this definition. We prefer to emphasize Israeli democracy, the right to vote and be elected, the fact that we have Arab members of Knesset, Arab judges and Arab officers in the IDF, and we all pretend that as long as there is an Arab soccer player on the Israeli team, there is no problem -- but there is a problem."
Lapid went on: "How can this country be Jewish if it also wants to be a democracy? Like Islam, like Christianity, Judaism is a history, Judaism is a civilization, Judaism is a tradition and Judaism is a religion....The rabbis, great as they may be, wise as they may be -- do not make the laws."
Earlier Tuesday, all Yesh Atid members of Knesset signed the civil marriage bill, which they intend to have approved in the current term, ending in March 2014. The bill aims to revolutionize religious services, allowing civil marriage, same-sex marriage, and otherwise halachically forbidden marriages and granting all couples with a civil union the full privileges and obligations afforded to married couples, within a system that is outside of the rabbinate's purview.
The bill is supported by Labor, Meretz, Hatnuah and Yisrael Beytenu, and strongly opposed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi. "The civil marriage [bill] places a serious question mark on our alliance with Yesh Atid," warned MK Yoni Shatbon (Habayit Hayehudi), "this bypasses rabbinical authority." MK Nissim Zeev (Shas) added that the bill "will split the nation in two."
The National Association of LGBT in Israel stated that "the civil marriage bill is the fruit of the labor of 'Otzma,' the political arm of the association, and of other NGOs alongside the party leaders, and we congratulate [Yesh Atid's] heads for standing by their word to provide a solution for the state's recognition of same sex marriages and civil marriages between couples who don't want or are uninterested in being married by the chief rabbinate."