Poll says most Israelis against Western Wall decision, conversion bill
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Poll says most Israelis against Western Wall decision, conversion bill

Survey by religious pluralism advocacy group indicates that nearly two-thirds of Jewish respondents oppose the moves

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Young Jewish men pray at the men's section of the Western Wall, the most holy site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 27, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)
Young Jewish men pray at the men's section of the Western Wall, the most holy site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 27, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

Two-thirds of Jewish Israelis oppose the recent cabinet decision to shelve a deal for pluralistic worship at the Western Wall and the coalition’s initial approval of a bill that would cement the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversions, a poll found Thursday.

According to the survey conducted by Hiddush, a local organization that aims to advance religious pluralism in Israel, 63 percent of respondents said they disagreed with the decision to suspend the 2016 government-approved deal regarding the Jewish holy site, while 37% supported it.

Broken down by parties within the coalition, the results show that supporters of ultra-Orthodox parties overwhelmingly (98%) approved of Sunday’s cabinet vote, while respondents affiliated with the mostly secular Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu parties showed significantly less support at 16% and 20% respectively. Support among members of the nationalist-religious Jewish Home party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party were split almost evenly.

The Conversion Bill — the other controversial measure given approval by Netanyahu’s government this week — was almost equally unpopular with the majority of Jewish Israelis, the Hiddush survey found.

According to the results, 64% of respondents said they opposed the bill, which would give the Chief Rabbinate the sole authority over conversions to Judaism in Israel, while 36% expressed support for the legislation.

Illustrative: An Israeli rabbinical court reviews a conversion case. (Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli rabbinical court reviews a conversion case. (Flash90)

Responses similarly fell according to party affiliation: 94% of respondents who back ultra-Orthodox parties expressed support for the measure, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu voters showed significantly less support at 20% and 16% respectively, and 66% of respondents from the Jewish Home party expressed support. Likud voters more evenly split with 57% in favor and 43% opposed.

In a statement, Hiddush president Rabbi Uri Regev said the results “prove how far the government has swerved away from the public will and the needs of the State of Israel. Instead, the government leaders act as puppets whose strings are being pulled by the anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox political parties.”

The poll was conducted among a sample of 500 Jewish adults in Israel on June 27 by the Smith Institute. It has a 4.5% margin or error.

Israel had approved a plan in January 2016 to officially recognize a separate, permanent, pluralistic prayer area at Robinson’s Arch adjacent to the main Western Wall prayer area, in a compromise reached after years of negotiations between liberal Israeli and American Jewish groups and the Israeli authorities. It gave non-Orthodox Jewish leaders a joint role in the oversight of the pluralistic site. Currently, a temporary prayer facility exists there.

But the program was never implemented as powerful ultra-Orthodox members of Netanyahu’s coalition government raised objections to the decision after they had initially endorsed it. Under ultra-Orthodox management, the main Western Wall area is separated between men’s and women’s prayer sections.

Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women's prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold Torah scrolls during mixed men and women’s prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu, trying to placate both his coalition partners and wealthy American Jewish donors, had promised a new $9 million plaza for mixed-gender prayer would be established.

On Sunday, the cabinet froze the plan, and he ordered top aides to formulate a new one.

This set off a cascade of criticism from liberal groups both in Israel and abroad. Liberal Jewish groups accused Netanyahu of scrapping the deal because of pressure from the two ultra-Orthodox parties that keep his narrow coalition afloat.

They have already petitioned the Supreme Court to implement the decision and still hold out hope it will overturn Sunday’s decision.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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