More than three quarters of Jewish Israelis are dissatisfied with government policies on religion, while 67% believe that the country’s ultra-Orthodox are driving a wedge between the general public and Judaism, according to a recently released study.
The public opinion poll, conducted by Hiddush- Freedom of Religion for Israel, also found that the rift between secular and haredi Israelis was deemed more “acute” than those between the country’s political right and left. Both, meanwhile, far surpassed the perceived rifts between Israel’s rich and poor.
This is the group’s fourth annual ‘Religion and State Index’ and is the largest ongoing public opinion study on matters of religion and state in Israel. It comes at a time when religious tensions in Israel are growing amidst what many perceive to be ultra-Orthodox’s increased influence on the public sphere. Gender segregation on public buses and the exclusion of women from the public sphere are on the rise, and fanning tensions are the ongoing draft exemptions that yeshiva students continue to receive.
“The public wants freedom of religion and equality in shouldering the civic burden, but receives the opposite all because of surrender to political extortion,” says Rabbi Uri Regev, the group’s president and former head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
The poll, which surveyed 800 Israelis, also found that64 percent of the public, including 56 percent of religious Jews, support making segregation of women in the public domain a criminal offense, while 78 percent support reducing public funding for yeshivas and large families in order to encourage haredi males to enter the workforce. Eighty-three percent, meanwhile, believe that yeshiva students should be obligated to serve in either military or civil service, while 72 percent reject the often-touted haredi claim that yeshiva study— and not military service— ensures Israel’s safety.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America, a haredi group based in New York, says that the poll only serves to fan the flames of internal conflict.
“The goal of Hiddush, which is headed by the former head of the political arm of the Reform movement in Israel, is to promote American-style ‘Jewish pluralism’ in Israel,” he said. “It has thus far failed to attract very many Israelis to that vision, since most Israelis, however conflicted they may be about elements of Judaism, recognize that our religion has a history and definition, and is not silly putty to be re-formed by contemporary social mores. What Hiddush has been unable to accomplish ‘on the ground,’ apparently, it is seeking to advance by fanning the flames of inter-Israeli strife. All Jews of good will, whatever their level or type of Jewish observance, should hope it fails there too.”