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Taking Israel's "Sandwich Police" to Task

Taking Israel's "Sandwich Police" to Task

Israelis are used to being asked to open up their bags and backpacks for inspection almost wherever they go.  When entering supermarkets, malls, bus stations. You name it. Usually, this routine rite of passage is accompanied by the standard question "Yesh neshek?" ("Do you have any weapons?") Most people are willing to sacrifice a bit of time and privacy for the added sense of security that these checks give them.

Over Passover, though, it seems that something other than security was at play at Afula's municipal park. People were asked to open their bags, but not in search of illegal weapons. Instead, the park's security guard was searching for... chametz, leavening. It didn't matter if it was a Christian, Muslim or secular Jewish Israeli family: Anyone found carrying leavened bread was prevented from entering the park. Many people stopped by the "chametz police" huddled around the park entrance to eat their meals on the fly rather than needlessly wasting them.

Similar incidents took place at hospitals in Petach Tikvah and Jerusalem. People who came to visit family members in the hospital over Passover were searched and forbidden from entering the hospital unless they first threw out their chametz.

Israel's Passover Law prohibits business owners from publicly displaying chametz products for sale or consumption during the week-long holiday, but nothing prohibits private citizens from consuming chametz, even in public spaces like parks and hospitals. In fact, Israel's anti-discrimination law outlaws discrimination against people on the basis of their religion or religious observance in public places.

The legal team at the Israel Religious Action Center has already written a letter to Yitzchak Meiron, Afula's mayor, demanding that the park incident be investigated and that public officials be educated about the law. We will be contacting the hospitals this week, with a stern reminder that violations of Israel's anti-discrimination law are punishable with fines of up to NIS 50,000 per incident.

It is one thing for Israel to be a Jewish state.  It is another thing altogether to require all Israeli citizens to practice a particular brand of Judaism, or risk being excluded from parks and hospitals. Security guards should have more important things to do than to confiscate hummus sandwiches.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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