This has been popping in and out of international news and I thought the following article to be an interesting take on the situation:
Just don't make the state 'too Jewish' Meron Rapaport, Haaretz, 5th January 2011
Tension between the secular and ultra-Orthodox has been a recurring phenomenon over the past few decades, bubbling below the surface and erupting every once in a while to dominate the political agenda. The most recent outburst is of a slightly different kind. First, because of its unusually long duration: for around three steady weeks, this issue has remained in the headlines and the focus of news programs. But also because of its content: the secular public's criticism this time does not focus solely on the allocation of funds or sharing the burden of military service. It touches on the very essence of the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.
The fight over the exclusion of women is not intent just on protecting women. It aims to protect the society as a whole from the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle. The mere presence of ultra-Orthodox society is perceived as an existential threat to the State of Israel.
The interesting thing is that this fight against ultra-Orthodox society and its values comes at a time when the Jewishness of the State of Israel has become a central motif in the public sphere over the past few years. Avigdor Lieberman wants to strengthen the Jewishness of the state by reducing the number of Arabs living in it; Zeev Elkin and his colleagues want to protect the "Jewish character" of the state by hurting all the organizations that undermine it; and Benjamin Netanyahu has turned recognition of Israel's "Jewishness" and not just its existence, into a foundation of his foreign policy.
Ostensibly, the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Elkin coalition should have turned Israel into a more Jewish state that is more receptive to Jewish, religious ideas and values. In practice, just about the opposite is happening. Sometimes the very same people who advocate maintaining "a Jewish state" are the ones leading the fight against stricter religious observance and the "Juda-ization" of the public sphere.Take Lieberman, for example. In a Yedioth Ahronoth interview last weekend, he sought to use the anti-ultra-Orthodox sentiments to dismantle the religious councils, i.e., take apart one of the cornerstones linking religion (Judaism ) to the state (Israel ).
How is it that people who consider it so important to have a Jewish state do not like it when Judaism shows its face? How is it possible that someone who sees maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel as a supreme mission is upset by the situation in cities and neighborhoods where the religiously observant represent a majority? It must be said: spitting at a seven-year-old girl is an extreme and ugly act, but there is nothing unJewish about separating men and women or strict observance of the laws of the Sabbath and marital relations. Soccer games on Saturdays and eating shrimp are issues that people find more endearing, and the freedom to exercise them must be preserved. But they are not necessarily Jewish activities.
This gap indicates that the matter of the "Jewish" character of the state is essentially a political issue verging on manipulation. Lieberman and Netanyahu do not want a Jewish state, but a state where non-Jews, or more simply put, Arabs cannot be partners in it. They do not seek to preserve Jewish values, but to reject the values of "the other." The "Jewish" character of the state is mainly a tool for excluding non-Jews from it, i.e., the Arabs. They, the non-Jews, must sit in the rear of the national bus.
The absurd thing is that the obsession over the Jewish character of the state is what yields the harsh response against the ultra-Orthodox. The ultra-Orthodox, Lieberman and Netanyahu seem to be saying, as well as others in the secular left-center, are taking our slogans too seriously. They, the ultra-Orthodox, really want this state to be Jewish, with side curls and shtreimels. The last thing the knights of "the Jewish character" of the state want is for it to really have a Jewish character. That is the last thing they need.