Sitting in his spacious office in the town of Kfar Kanna, near Nazareth in the Galilee, Ahmad Effendi Meat Co. CEO Eiad Awawdy calmly described his 2014 encounter with Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Baruch Lau.
“I started to ask him interesting questions,” Awawdy, 43, said, of the meeting at a Chamber of Commerce event in Tel Aviv. “‘Is Judaism a missionary religion?’ He said no. I asked him: ‘Is Judaism a religion of coercion?’ He also said no. So I said: ‘Then how is it possible that you, the religion of Moses, are coercing us and interfering with our food? Why do you want me to eat my meat according to yourhalacha?’”
(The chief rabbi’s office stated that he does not remember the incident.)
On May 18, Awawdy and a dozen other Arab-Israelis, represented by Adalah, the Legal Center for the Arab Minority Rights in Israel, demanded an answer from Israel’s supreme court. Their petition seeks to overturn or allow exceptions to the 2004 law requiring all imported meat to be certified as kosher according to the strict standards of the Israeli chief rabbinate. The import ban, combined with economic factors, effectively forces Muslim and Christian Israelis to buy kosher meat even though they have no obligation to follow Jewish dietary law. “We have no problem with Judaism or with the State of Israel,” Awawdy said, “but we feel free to oppose religious coercion.”
The court will hear the petition in February. According to legal experts, the case has a good chance of success. “I don’t see how the court will deny the petition,” said Shuki Friedman, director of the Center for Religion, Nation, and State at the Israeli Democracy Institute.
Israel’s Arab minority makes up 20 percent of the country’s population. In recent years, Arab citizens have had to contend with a raft of discriminatory legislation and overt hostility in the media and from leading politicians; newly installed Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for instance, has infamously referred to Arab-Israeli politicians as “traitors” and a “fifth column.”
But they have also been left behind economically. The Arab-Israeli population is plagued by high unemployment and high poverty rates; women are especially hard-hit. Despite recent government investment in infrastructure, job growth, and education in Arab communities, the OECD reports that Arabs continue to lag behind the Jewish majority.
Read the full story from 2016 in Tablet Magazine.