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February 11, 2013

Israel’s Secular vs Religious Divide – The Most Acute Tension in Israeli Society

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/israels_secular_vs_religious_divide_the_most_acute_tension_in_israeli_socie/

Recent surveys conducted by Hiddush, an organization committed to freedom of religion for Israel, show clearly that the vast majority of Israelis want “freedom of religion and equality in shouldering civic burdens, equal military service for all, the implementation of core curricular studies, civil marriage, public transportation on Shabbat, a decrease in subsidies for yeshiva students, and action against public discrimination of women. Instead the public suffers from the government’s repeated surrender to the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.” (Rabbi Uri Regev, President of Hiddush).

This conclusion is drawn from surveys conducted before and after the recent Israeli elections by the Rafi Smith Research Institute. Here are some of its findings:

  • 71% of Israeli society believe that the most acute conflict within Israel is that between the secular and ultra-Orthodox populations, as opposed to 41% who see the left-right tension as most acute, 33% who see the rich-poor conflict as the most serious, and 16% who regard the Ashkenazi-Sephardi conflict as the most dire;
  • 64% of the public (including 56% of religious Jews - i.e. non ultra-Orthodox) support making segregation of women in public a criminal offense;
  • 78% support reducing public funding for yeshivot and large families so as to encourage Haredi (i.e. ultra-Orthodox) males to work;
  • 63% support public transportation operating on Shabbat;
  • 61% (surveyed before the election) say that they would be more likely to vote for a political party that actively supported freedom of religion;
  • 83% believe that yeshiva students should be obligated to serve either in the military or in civil service;
  • 72% reject the claim of the Haredi parties that study in yeshivot, not service in the military, ensures Israel’s safety;
  • 80% want an Israeli government that will promote religious freedom and equality in the burden of service to the state;
  • 54% want a government without the two ultra-Religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism in the ruling coalition;
  • 67% are against the idea that the Chair of the Knesset’s Finance Committee (formerly held by one of United Torah Judaism’s members) not be entrusted to an ultra-Orthodox MK in the next government;
  • 83% believe that housing subsidies should follow the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee in 2011, which recommended that such subsidies should be conditional on the willingness to work, as opposed to current policies that overwhelmingly favor the ultra-Orthodox population (Note: 114,000 Hareidi men are publicly funded to study in ultra-Orthodox yeshivot – only 40% of ultra-Orthodox men are employed and many are half-time workers or less);
  • Only 20% of ultra-Orthodox students study subjects such as math, science and English, yet the Education Ministry certifies virtually all ultra-Orthodox schools as fulfilling the country’s mandatory core curriculum requirements.

There are a number of conclusions to be drawn from these surveys:

  • The Israeli public wants a social and religious transformation in Israeli society.
  • The Israeli public wants a civil government that will promote an agenda based on religious freedom and equality in sharing the economic and national defense burden.
  • The Israeli public is angry about the long history of political bullying and strong-arming by the ultra-Orthodox parties as the price the ruling government coalition must pay to maintain a majority of Members of the Knesset (i.e. 61).
  • The ultra-Orthodox claim that it represents Judaism and Jewish interests is unsubstantiated by the vast majority of Israelis.
  • The greatest tensions in Israeli society are between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews and that government policies over the last few decades have exacerbated these tensions and created a dependent class of Israeli citizens who have received far more federal funds than is their fair share to the detriment of the Israeli economy, civil society and democracy.

The ultra-Orthodox community of Israel, represents only 9% of Israeli society. Modern Orthodox Jews are far more in number but work and serve in the Israeli military as do all Israeli citizens. The Israeli public clearly has voiced its opposition to the unfair influence of the ultra-Orthodox parties over Israel’s civil community. It is hoped that the next government will reflect the true desires of the Israeli public.

The particulars of Hiddush surveys can be found on the Hiddush web-site.

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