Survey shows broad dissatisfaction with Israeli religious policy

Survey shows broad dissatisfaction with Israeli religious policy

Charedi Israelis protest in Jerusalem against compulsory military service for men on August 25. (FLASH90)
Charedi Israelis protest in Jerusalem against compulsory military service for men on August 25. (FLASH90)

TEL AVIV — Secular and charedi Orthodox Israelis differ on many things, but there’s one thing both sides agree on: When it comes to religious affairs, the government is failing.

That’s one of the findings of an annual survey of Israeli religious identification and attitudes toward religious policy that Hiddush, a 6-year-old organization that promotes religious freedom in Israel, released last week.

The survey found that 95 percent of secular respondents are dissatisfied with the government’s handling of religious issues, and that large majorities favor civil marriage or civil unions and official recognition of non-Orthodox conversions.

But the survey also reported dissatisfaction with religious policy among 81 percent of charedi Orthodox Israelis, despite the fact that charedi parties regained control over the Religious Affairs Ministry and the powerful Knesset Finance Committee as a result of the March elections. Since then, the parties have set about rolling back several reforms adopted by the previous government by removing the teeth from a law drafting charedi men into the military and repealing a conversion reform passed last year.

“When the charedim are unhappy, they’re unhappy about something different than why the secular [Israelis] are unhappy,” Rabbi Uri Regev, the CEO of Hiddush, said. “To many of them, Israel is not giving them enough, not enforcing their prerogatives enough, not enforcing Shabbat observance.”

Covering a broad spectrum of questions on religious policy and identification, the Hiddush survey reported that large majorities of Israelis support religious policy change. It has found that same sentiment every year since the poll began in 2009. Sixty-four percent of Jewish Israelis support recognizing Conservative and Reform conversions. Now, Israel recognizes only Orthodox conversions. Nearly three-quarters of Israelis want public transit on Shabbat. And 86 percent of respondents support charedi men performing military or civilian national service.

Sixty-four percent of Jewish Israelis want Israel to enact civil marriage or civil unions, though 63 percent said they would still choose an Orthodox ceremony for themselves.

“There is clearly a growing, solid, overwhelming majority of Israelis who are unhappy about the way religion and state are linked and impacting the lives of individuals and the state,” Regev said. “The public clearly does not like what the Israeli government has provided it with.”

The survey also found a rise in support for same-sex marriage, with 64 percent in support, compared to 56 percent last year. The jump follows the national legalization of gay marriage in the United States and a stabbing attack at the Jerusalem gay pride parade in July that killed a 16-year-old girl. But a substantial portion of Israel’s governing coalition opposes same-sex marriage, making its passage unlikely.

Israelis’ long-held desire for religious reform hasn’t led to corresponding government action. According to Regev, that’s because when they vote, Israelis place less priority on religion than on security or economics. That was especially true before this year’s election, which followed the in Gaza and much public discussion about skyrocketing housing prices. Religious issues didn’t even register in a March pre-election poll that asked about the country’s most pressing concerns. Nor have issues like marriage and conversion been subjects of major public protest.

In 2013, religious policy briefly rose in prominence as Yesh Atid became the Knesset’s second-largest party, promising to draft charedim and push for civil unions. But those issues faded as Israel entered last summer’s war in Gaza. In this year’s elections, the new kingmaker was Kulanu, a party largely focused on economics. Yesh Atid, meanwhile, lost eight seats and joined the parliamentary opposition.

“Yes, the majority of Israelis don’t like the way things are. Yes, they want religious freedom and equality,” Regev said. “But should that be the condition for sitting in the government? No. The challenge is how do you translate passive support and understanding of the issues into mobilization.”

JTA Wire Service

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