Israeli Reaction to U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

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Last week’s historic Supreme Court decisions in the United States, including the full legalization of gay marriage and the upholding of health insurance subsidies, were seen in Israel mostly through the prism of U.S. President Barack Obama’s increased political stature. But with its fixation on U.S. political support, as well as its spectrum of secular to ultra-religious citizenry, Israel displayed a very diverse emotional reaction to the news as well. Some observers are debating the implications of the Constitutional principles underpinning the Supreme Court rulings, wondering if they could ultimately impact the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in several U.S. states. Some commentators also offered a personal reflection on what the legalization of gay marriage meant to them, pointing out both the political as well as the religious dimensions of the court rulings.  

Writing for Yedioth Ahronoth, Orly Azoulay expressed the view that last week’s events constituted Barack Obama’s “finest hour,” congratulating him for restoring America’s position as a beacon of freedom and equality: “Through his two achievements in the issues of health and LGBT rights, he managed to restore America’s position as a beacon to the world in terms of freedom of the individual…. Obama recorded two other achievements recently: He succeeded in uniting the split Congress in order to pass free trade agreements with the Pacific countries. In addition, on the background of the tragedy in South Carolina, he demonstrated charismatic leadership which united the people and reignited a public debate on the need to supervise arms seals and on the institutionalized racism which refuses to disappear. The past weekend’s constitutional revolutions, which Obama can take full credit for, will affect America’s future. Last week, Obama basically regained control and began setting the tone for anything taking place in Washington.”

Pointing out the “double identity” of U.S. political discourse, Ben-Dror Yemini disagrees with those who have argued that the Supreme Court overstepped the U.S. public on social issues: “Only a decade ago, in 2005, about 59-68% were against it. In 2015, the support rate is 59-63%. The court didn’t lead — it adjusted itself to the changes in the public opinion, which were reflected in some of the states’ legislation. This wonderful introduction only stresses one of the most fascinating characteristics of the U.S.: It’s a country with a double identity… The rights discourse nurtures, among other things, the equality before the law. As we climb up the law authorities in the U.S., this equality is more apparent. In Israel too, following the judicial activism, some of the battles for equality move over to the High Court. The rulings win praise, but the American experience shows that, with all due respect, rulings don’t change a social reality. Sometimes they even do the opposite. The legal battle comes at the expense of the real battle.”

Times of Israel’s Mottle Wolfe, on the other hand, takes the arguments of regional gay marriage opponents head on, urging them to “get over it,” indicating that weightier and more consequential issues need to occupy our attention: “It is a done deal. Western society or, as I like to call it from here in the Middle East, civilized society, has accepted homosexuality as a ‘normal’ sexual orientation. …Having a family teaches you to put others first, to prioritize someone else’s needs over your own…. This is a civil law. This is not here to kill God or religion. It is simply saying that if you are a gay man or a gay woman and you want to have some sort of deeper commitment to a partner, you want to build something meaningful in your life with another person that you feel affection and love for….Maybe most importantly, we have bigger problems than this…climate change…ISIS.”

Others are concerned about the implications of the rulings for Israel’s battle with “delegitimization,” with Globes’ Norman Bailey expressing the fear that the precedent established by the Court’s decision, may hinder Israel’s fight against the BDS movement: “The court… struck down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, thereby fundamentally shifting the balance of authority from the states to the federal government. The constitution reserves all powers not specifically granted to the central government to the states and to the people…. Several states have prohibited or are considering prohibiting BDS movements. The court also backed the federal government in its refusal to implement the Congressional mandate to acknowledge on official documents the manifest fact that Jerusalem is in Israel, on grounds that the constitution gives principal responsibility for foreign relations to the executive branch. The problem with that reasoning is that the Congressional order has nothing to do with foreign relations.”

Continuing in a similar vein, but expanding on the criticism of the court’s decision regarding gay marriage, Larry Gordon writes on the pages of Arutz Sheva that “All three decisions—Jerusalem, Obamacare, and same-gender marriage—carry an underlying theme that speaks of a lack of steadfastness on the part of the court and an overall failure of leadership…. [I]n an eye-opening and even initially shocking revelation…voting in favor of same-sex marriage is not about endorsing a lifestyle that Torah looks at askance but rather a matter of civil rights and protecting people’s freedom. While that may be the case, the fact of the matter is that the media…do not exactly view it in that context and insist on celebrating what they consider a victory by publishing photos of men and women in poses too brazen to foist on people in such a sudden way. On this issue—along with several others—unfortunately, the court has lost its way…. What I do object to is the willy-nilly fashion in which fundamentals are moved around like they were toys. For now the damage has been done and it will take some getting used to. The next big issue is the challenge to the constitutional right to freedom of religion.”

In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Shmuley Boteach, stressing his position as an Orthodox rabbi, marks a more radical departure from the aforementioned opinions and observations, suggesting the government should not be in the business of issuing marriage certificates for anyone, arguing “Marriage should be an exclusively religious institution and secular states should be in the business of only civil unions… when it comes to government, I believe in civil union for all and marriage for none…. Governments should not be upending traditional, religious marriage and that governments should be treating all people as equals, according both straight and gay couples the same rights. Gay and straight men and women should be allowed to contract with a partner and earn the civil benefits that accrue in civil unions. For all those who are predicting that the legalization of gay marriage is the end of Western civilization and the traditional family…[d]ivorce and the easy culture of recreational sex…makes a mockery of intimacy and commitment, [and] pose a far greater threat to the future of the family than gay marriage.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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