Religion, State and Multiculturalism in Israel


  • Michael Karayanni

Michael Karayanni, Edward S. Silver Professor of Civil Procedure  and Director of the Harry and Michael Sacher Institute for  Legislative Research and Comparative Law, Faculty of Law, Hebrew  University of Jerusalem. His research focuses on private  international law and inter-religious law, civil procedure, and  multiculturalism. He holds an LL.D in law from the Hebrew  University (2000) as well as an S.J.D. degree from the University  of Pennsylvania Law School, received in 2003. He is the author of  "Conflicts in a Conflict" (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2012)


Event Summary

Professor Karayanni's talk addresses the question of why religious and political issues in Israel are dominated by the conflict around disproportionate funding for Jewish institutions and norms, and the implications this emphasis has on jurisdictional authority in Israel. Professor Karayanni points out that while there are 14 recognized religious communities in Israel, less than 2% of the budget for support of religious institutions goes to non-Jewish organizations. However, as a result of the relative lack of official recognition, the Israeli Supreme Court has in some cases deferred from enforcing Israeli administrative law, a practice that has afforded greater freedom to some private religious institutions such as religious schools, as Karayanni outlines demonstrates with examples from several recent court cases . He then describes how judicial freedom for some religious groups can create a "multicultural predicament" in which the autonomy allowed to minority religious groups may conflict with the best interests of more vulnerable members, such as women and children, in groups with illiberal social and judicial norms. Nonetheless, Professor Karayanni argues that the perception of being multicultural is important to the Jewish state, as it is in Egypt, Jordan, and India, where minority religious groups have similar autonomy.

A discussion session following the talk addressed such questions as: Is there any political will to divorce Jewish identity from the state and instead have it represented only through community institutions? How many Christian Palestinians live in the Palestinian Territory versus in Israel? How do they operate legally within the Palestinian community? How are minority Jewish sects treated in Israel? How would a binational state resulting in the absorption of Palestine affect these religious issues?