Rights guarantees critical for religious and secular

Why are the religious politicians so opposed to a constitution that will guarantee the rights of every citizen and resident of this country?

It just doesn't make sense.

If we had a constitution, Shas would not have to go, cap in hand, begging for its education institutes and schools to be funded. Those rights would be guaranteed by law, not by some form of pre-modern bartering.

If we had a constitution, religious institutes, such as synagogues and study houses, would be provided for by right, not by special favor, which depends on coalition politics.

And if we had a constitution guaranteeing true equality of rights, Israelis would not have to prove themselves more loyal, or more Zionist, than their neighbors, because it would simply be irrelevant. Citizens would be guaranteed rights, whether or not they believed in or identified with the dominant state ethos of the time.

We need a constitution in this country because we lack any sense of political culture. Britain, with all its parliamentary attributes, does not have a written constitution. It maintains customs and traditions of government that have never been formally written down anywhere, but which have become so entrenched as part of the cultural heritage and political culture that everybody — majority and minority, government and opposition — behaves accordingly.

Some of these customs may be quaint and appear a bit odd to the outsider. They may not really be necessary for the governance of a modern state. But their existence testifies to an unspoken set of rules that allows the country to be administered in a stable and smooth fashion, for policy to be implemented, and for transition from one government to the next to take place as smoothly and speedily as possible.

And what about the opposite example? The U.S. Constitution was written down by the first states and modified, according to changing circumstances and demands, in a series of amendments that guarantee the rights of every American citizen. If those rights are infringed, they can be challenged in the federal and supreme courts.

A written constitution was necessary in the United States because otherwise the individual states would not have agreed to form the original union. Each wanted to ensure that its rights as an independent state would not be challenged and that it would not end up competing for representation in the federal government.

The Constitution determines what is acceptable and what is not, and guards the rights and freedoms of individuals and groups to practice their religion and cultural traditions, however diverse those traditions may be. All remain equal citizens.

True, a constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all has to be adapted to reality. In Israel, a constitution cannot escape the definition of the state as being a Jewish one. But recognition of the rights of other Jewish and non-Jewish groups does not threaten in any way the rights of the Orthodox population, which requires public resources that can be guaranteed by a constitution.

There is nothing secular about having a constitution. It is simply a way of creating an orderly and stable means of governance that allows the elected representatives to govern the state, instead of constantly determining the rights of each individual.

A constitution will also limit the large degree of freedom enjoyed by Israel's Supreme Court in recent years, and which has brought the courts much public criticism, especially by the Orthodox population. The constitution would limit Supreme Court decisions to a written set of rules. The courts may be asked to interpret the meaning of the Constitution, but they will not be able to make the sort of decisions that compel governments to try to enact laws that bypass the legal rulings.

Those who benefit from the absence of a written constitution today are the economic and political elites who have governed the country from its inception. Those who stand to gain from a constitution are all those groups who have been marginalized in the past and who are now seeking to become empowered. This includes the Palestinian citizens of the country, the women, the Mizrachim and the religious population.

It is time that the religious politicians told their constituents the truth. By opposing a constitution, they hinder the advancement and integration of their own followers as equal citizens in Israeli society.