In honor of International Human Rights Day, IDI interviewed Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, who has been involved in drafting the Basic Law: Social Rights, which would grant social rights such as the right to live in dignity, the right to housing, the right to food security, the right to access to water, and the right to education with the status of constitutional rights. MK Molla also heads the Knesset Lobby for the Struggle Against Racism and the Knesset Caucus for Civil Equality and Pluralism. Read the English translation below.
Q: What led you to participate in drafting the Basic Law: Social Rights?
A: Although the State of Israel has been in existence for 63 years, it has not defined basic rights for all the citizens of the state in areas such as housing, employment, welfare, fairness, social equality, etc. In the absence of a Constitution, we must pass such legislation even for matters that should be obvious.
In my opinion, the Knesset must pass this law because it pertains to the most basic rights of all citizens in the State of Israel. I'm surprised that the Knesset hasn't passed such a law until now. Because at the end of the day, what the law is concerned with is equitable distribution of resources, the collective responsibility of every citizen in the State, and the responsibility of the State to tend to the needs of all of its citizens, in areas including clothing, education, social equality, welfare, employment, association. All of these rights are self-evident. Therefore, I think that this bill is fundamentally necessary in order to create social equality in Israeli society.
I believe that the reason why this legislation has not passed until now is because there is a great deal of discrimination in Israel. There is a lot of exclusion in Israeli society, and especially damage to minorities and people who are different. In particular, there is an unjustified confusion between religion and state and especially a monopoly of the Orthodox, which does not allow us to pass laws that are more enlightened and more equitable. I think that the Basic Law: Social Rights is intended to provide the most basic rights for every citizen of the state. I share this vision and the desire to be part of the dialogue to pass this law because this law is necessary for our existence as a society and for the creation of social solidarity.
Q: As the Chairman of Knesset Lobby for the Struggle Against Racism and the Knesset Caucus for Civil Equality and Pluralism, what do you think is the most burning issue in Israeli society today?
A: I think the most basic and burning issue today is the damage that is done to minorities, to people who are different, to the people who come here to Israel, including the immigrants from Ethiopia and others who are in Israel. The attitude that we have towards these people is disparaging, discriminatory, and hurtful. I can point to three examples that I see as the most frightening. In the realm of religion, for example, let's take the issue of the aguna, the chained woman whose husband does not agree to grant her a divorce. In Israel, it's possible for there to be a Jewish woman who wants to separate from her husband and is required to continue being a captive in his hands. She does not have basic rights. This is done in the name of religion. She is a chained woman, forever. She cannot get married, according to the laws of Moses and Israel, even if she would want to. This causes serious injury. Religious pluralism in Israel does not exist. There is only one stream—haredi Orthodoxy, which I might say is similar to Iran. There is almost no room here for Reform and Conservative Jews, for views that are, perhaps, different. With regard to marriage and divorce in Israel, for example, why is it that a citizen who wants to get married outside of a religious framework, in accordance with his or her world view and desires, is not able to do so in the State of Israel? This is a basic and elementary matter.
If we talk about racism in general, look at the wild behavior of the rabbis who incited people against Israeli Arabs. They called on Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs and to prevent Arabs from moving freely among us, and encouraged people to exclude refugees from the public sphere. Look at what is happening with school children from the Ethiopian community. They are excluded from being integrated in elementary schools; they are forced to learn in segregated pre-schools. This racism is rampant; it's sky high. Beyond this phenomenon and the fact that the Israeli public is turning a blind eye to it, I am much more concerned by the fact that there are those who are cloaking this phenomenon under the wraps of Jewish law, in the name of religion, in the name of Right-Left. Racism and discrimination are rampant in our society, and people do not see this as a social problem of the highest degree.
Q: Recently, many statements have been made about the status of infiltrators to Israel. Among other things, there is a debate over whether they should be defined as refugees or migrant workers. What is your position on this issue?
A: It doesn't matter to me how the infiltrators are defined. It doesn't matter to me if they are refugees or migrants. I do not think that the state must automatically grant some kind of status to every infiltrator or to every migrant. But I do think that all of these migrants, who are now within the borders of the State of Israel, must be treated with great respect by the State of Israel. Israel must let them work, must let them earn a living, and must give them basic medical care. Therefore, I'm not getting into definitions. As long as they are here, we need to treat them with a great deal of respect.
Q. We occasionally hear in the media about discrimination against Ethiopian Jews in many areas, especially in education. How do you see the situation of the Ethiopian community in Israel? What challenges face this community?
A: First of all, I would like to say that the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel is much stronger than people think. Ethiopian immigrants see themselves as citizens of Israel like any other citizen of Israel. Therefore, they do not feel humiliated and they do not feel like outcasts—despite the difficulties, despite the religious establishment, despite the attitudes of the mayors, etc. They are here and they will not move from here.
With regard to your question, the attitude towards Ethiopians here is arrogant and haughty. It is characterized by prejudice and stigmas that see Ethiopians as incompetent and lacking in ability. I sometimes hear mayors of cities speak and I feel like exploding when I hear how racist they are. I'm not surprised by this, because our society was built by consciously and deliberately taking in different populations. Look, for example, at the separation of Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews in schools. It is considered fine. There are processes of separation that take place within Israeli society, and Ethiopian immigrants are the additional victims. But there were many other victims of discrimination. For example, Arab Israelis and the distribution of resources that they receive; the attitude of the society that is doing the giving.... At soccer games, when people said "death to the Arabs," no one woke up at the time. People are not waking up today either. And the hatred that exists here towards the "Other," towards people who are different, puts the story of the Ethiopians right in the face of Israeli society. There is rampant discrimination in Israel; the establishment sees it, hears it. In Israel, there are 18 segregated schools for Ethiopian students—18 schools, all over Israel! There are four in Netanya, and we've seen similar phenomena in other places. This matter is intolerable, but yet we live with it. It is very sad, but we will keep fighting.