After sitting through a lengthy PowerPoint presentation by the Jewish People Policy Institute of its 2017 Pluralism Index in Jerusalem on Thursday, a group of Reform and Conservative leaders complained of once again being left off the charts.
For the purposes of the ongoing project, the JPPI, a not-for-profit think tank tasked with creating strategy to ensure the future of the Jewish people, defines Israeli pluralism as “the condition in which Israelis of different social classes, ideologies, religious streams, levels of beliefs and practices, genders, and ethnic backgrounds have an opportunity to legitimately exercise their differences in the public sphere.”
However, when some 1,000 Israeli Jews surveyed were asked to self-identify with nine possible religious or secular streams (or neither), there was no option for the Reform and Conservative movements. There were five choices for gradations of Orthodox observance — including “hardal” or “Haredi-leumi” which makes up only one percent of the population — but no nod to non-Orthodox Jewish streams, which are some 5-8 percent of Israel’s Jewish population.
Perhaps, joked Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Hiddush: For Religious Freedom and Equality, this exclusion of non-Orthodox Judaism is because there is still no Hebrew word for “pluralism.”
But leader of the Israeli Reform Movement Gilad Kariv called the oversight a “moment for heshbon nefesh” (a term for introspective reckoning used ahead of the Day of Atonement).
“Why does this phenomenon happen? When you are thinking of groups that are only 1% of the population, think of groups that are 8%! I suggest that the institute reexamine the issue of when an Israeli group becomes a player in the game of Israeli identity,” said Kariv.
Ironically, this oversight was strangely in line with the overarching findings of the index.
“Israel is a place where people are happy to live — Jews, ultra-Orthodox, Arabs. They just don’t like living together,” said JPPI president Avinoam Bar-Yosef in opening remarks at the presentation. Bar-Yosef later apologized to Kariv, Conservative movement head Yizhar Hess, and the other leaders of Israel’s non-Orthodox Jewry in attendance for the omission.
“There is no doubt that this was a mistake, and no doubt that it was unintentional. We usually do relate to the Reform and Conservative movements as relevant groups. Some things fell between the cracks,” said Bar-Yosef.
The study was supported by the William Davidson Foundation and statistical analysis and methodological development was led by economist Prof. Steven Popper of the Rand Corporation. Demographer Prof. Uzi Rebhun, sociologist Dr. Shlomo Fischer, Shmuel Rosner, and Institute Fellow Noah Slepkov formed the rest of the index’s team.
There was one place in which the non-Orthodox movements were mentioned in the index: in a ranking of how different segments of Israeli society view other sectors’ contributions. On average, Jewish Israelis ranked “reformim” (often used as a term of derision by Orthodox Jews) as below average in their contributions, under Diaspora Jews and settlers, but above Israelis who live abroad.
“Totally secular” Jews ranked Reform Jews in the top 10, whereas ultra-Orthodox Jews ranked them in last place in terms of their contributions to Israeli society. (The “totally secular” Jews returned the favor and ranked Haredi Jews last.)
The pluralism index is a treasure trove of data that will likely be slowly mined for numerous upcoming reports. Among its most unexpected findings are those that relate to Israel’s Arab sector. (Only 300 of the 1,300 polled were Arab, leaving a margin of error of just over 5 points, as opposed to Jews’ 3+ point margin.)
When asked how comfortable they feel in Israel “being themselves,” 74% of Arab Israelis said they were comfortable or very comfortable, versus 88% of Jews. However, asked whether there is too much freedom of expression in Israel, 74% of Arab respondents agreed while only 47% of Jews did.
According to Rosner, who led the presentation and the project, those Israelis who politically define themselves as “moderate left” are most likely to say they would live with the “other,” followed by those who define themselves as “moderate right.”
When asked whether Jews and Arabs should live together in mixed neighborhoods, 73% of Arabs said they should not (versus 68% of Jews).
‘A significant majority of Muslim Arabs and the vast majority (more than 90%) of Christian Arabs in Israel do not think it is wise for their respective groups to live together’
“Totally secular” Jews were less inclined to live with religious neighbors, especially the ultra-Orthodox. “Similarly, a significant majority of Muslim Arabs and the vast majority (more than 90%) of Christian Arabs in Israel do not think it is wise for their respective groups to live together,” according to the report.
Some in attendance marked as a seed of potential coexistence the fact that 76% of Arabs polled said they would like their children to study in schools with Jews (versus 46% of Jews). Likewise, when Arab Israelis were asked which segments most contribute to society, “somewhat surprisingly” they ranked Israeli soldiers higher than most other groups.
“That they rank ‘settlers’ at the bottom of the list is less of a surprise. And much like Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs also take a dim view of the contribution of ultra-Orthodox Jews to Israel’s success,” according to the report.
Despite the breadth of the findings, which are available online in Hebrew, one member of the audience wondered if the index disproportionately focused on religion.
“I see myself as a ‘national Jew,'” not a secular Jew, “and I’d be happy if I’m not alone,” said Sallai Meridor, a former head of the Jewish Agency under whose chairmanship the JPPI was founded. He added that for many of the religious Jews he knows, nationalism is more important to their identities than religion.
“Identity doesn’t come from which rabbi you go to, or which kashrut you observe,” said Meridor.
“Is the religious identification really such an important piece of Israeli identity, or are we missing other factors?” asked Meridor.