Sunday, March 13, 2016

Israel’s Cult Crackdown Could Snare Yoga, Rabbis, and Meditation 

Amid all the turmoil of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—most recently, last week’s horrific stabbing of 10 civilians, including one American citizen—the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has found time to introduce a strange “anti-cult law” meant to combat New Age sects in the Jewish state, but which could also impact yoga ashrams, controversial rabbis, and meditation groups.

Contrary to appearances, the conflict and the cults are closely related to one another.

The bill, proposed by Israel’s nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party and supported by the conservative governing coalition, would provide an additional charge for any spiritual leader charged with other crimes: leading a “harmful cult.”

A harmful cult is defined elliptically in the bill as any group that “rallies around a person or an idea, in a way that there is exploitation, dependency, authority, or emotional distress experienced by one or more members, uses methods of mind control or controlling patterns of behavior, and operates in an organized, systematic, and sustained fashion, while committing crimes under Israeli law that are felonies or sexual offenses or serious violence.”

If a spiritual leader is charged with another crime—kidnapping, say, or embezzlement, or fraud—this additional crime could be added onto it.

The consequences are severe, not just for the cult leader, but for followers as well. Once a “harmful cult” has been established, the state could appoint custodians to make decisions on the members’ behalf, even if they are adults who have have freely consented to take part. Such a custodian could implement forced deprogramming sessions, take control over finances, and actions that would otherwise constitute kidnapping, like holding or institutionalizing members for re-education.


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