On Church-State Separation, Israeli Views Intersect

While lawmakers wage political battles every day about how much religion the government should impose, ordinary Israelis, both religious and secular, are surprisingly unified on the notion of keeping the government out of their private lives.

An ultra-Orthodox Jew walks past graffiti in Jerusalem
An ultra-Orthodox Jew walks past graffiti in Jerusalem
Dr. Varda Milbauer


TEL AVIV â€" The political relationship between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel is approaching a breaking point. Ideological differences between the two groups are continually widening, fueling legislative disagreements about how much the government should or can intervene in the private lives of citizens.

There is no separation between church and state in Israel, which means imposing a religious worldview and lifestyle on even the part of the population that is non-religious.

Since the founding of the current political coalition, secular Jews have grown more concerned about the enormous power that religious parties hold. They fear that the government will push forward a religious agenda, worsening an already existing anxiety about losing their "home."

That fear is justified insofar as religious members of the Israeli parliament â€" or Knesset â€" are exercising their power as fast as they can to intensify and promote laws and regulations that are very different from the views and lifestyles of the country's many secular Jews.

Inside the Knesset â€" Photo: Itzik Edri/PikiWiki

The good news is that while these political divisions persist, ordinary Jews of various religious bents are more ideologically unified about the role of church and state than the divisions of lawmakers would suggest.

In a recent survey, 79% of Israeli respondents said they believed the current government's legislative changes are unnecessarily widening the gap between religious and secular populations. Predictably, 91% of secular Jews responding held this view. But even 75% of the traditionalists who responded said they agreed, along with, perhaps most shockingly, 40% of ultra-Orthodox respondents.

It is commonly said of Israel's policies and its leadership that they are blinded by sectarian interests and petty politics. Perhaps the views of the population on issues of such profound national importance will wake up lawmakers, forcing them finally to reconsider the country's direction.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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