Israeli morality informed more by religion, laws than by Western values – survey

Marking Independence Day, JPPI index tests perceptions of what makes a ‘real Israeli,’ evaluates religious practice

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

A man wearing an Israeli flag prays at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 17, 2017.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A man wearing an Israeli flag prays at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 17, 2017.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

For most Israelis, laws of the state and religious values inform their moral reasoning more deeply than do Western values, according to a survey released this week.

Ahead of Israel’s 71st Independence Day beginning on Wednesday evening, the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) Pluralism Index also tested perceptions of what makes a “real Israeli” and attitudes on religion and state, in a poll of 654 Jews and 230 non-Jewish respondents with a margin of error of 3.4 percent.

It found that among Jews, 57% say state laws are a “profoundly influential” factor in distinguishing between right and wrong when making decisions, and 52% say the same about Jewish values. Just under one-third of Jewish respondents (31-32%) described the two categories as “slightly influential,” according to the JPPI survey. For Western values, however, 29% said they had profound bearing on their decisions, and another 45% said they were slightly influential.

Among Muslim, Bedouin, Druze, Christian and other respondents, religious values were deemed more important (63% said they were “profoundly influential”) than state law in delineating right from wrong, though over half (51%) said the country’s laws deeply affect their decisions. Just 16% said Western values were a profoundly influential factor (another 27% said they were slightly influential).

Overall, among both Jews and non-Jewish groups, over 88% said state law influenced their decisions to various degrees, and more than 80% gave weight to their religious values. The poll did not define the meaning of those values, leaving it to the interpretation of the respondent.

Activists and members of the Druze community protest against the nation-state law, outside the Knesset, on October 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It turns out that despite the differences between the various groups that make up Israeli society, their desire to preserve the Jewish character of the state is strong, but as the data shows, the laws of the state are very influential not only for the majority, but also for the minority,” said JPPI president Avinoam Bar-Yosef in a statement.

“Similarly, for both Jews and Arabs, the influence of religious values ​​outweighs Western influences or influences originating in the Arab world,” he said.

Broken down by self-described religious levels, those “not at all religious” or “slightly religious” were split over the influence of Western values. Forty-eight percent of secular respondents said they were influential, and the same number said they were not. Among the slightly religious, half said they were not influential, and 49% said they were. For the “very religious” and “religious,” 71% and 60% said they were not influential, respectively.

What makes a real Israeli?

The survey comes nearly a year after the Israeli government passed the so-called nation-state law that for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.” The law angered the country’s Druze, Christian, and Muslim minorities, who accused Israel of placing its Jewish nature over its democratic character.

According to the survey, some 91% of non-Jewish citizens disagreed with the statement “To be a real Israeli, you must be Jewish.”

For Jews, however, three-quarters agree with the sentiment, to varying degrees (30% totally agree, 28% agree, 17% slightly agree), laying bare a stark divide between the country’s different faith groups.

Israeli Druze religious leaders attend a Druze-led rally to protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State law’ in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv on Aug. 04, 2018. (Gili Yaari /FLASH90)

Jewish Israelis were also far more likely to agree that a “real Israeli” must speak Hebrew than their non-Jewish counterparts (some 80% among Jews, compared to 52%  among non-Jews).

Most Israelis, Jewish and not, agreed that love for Israel was a condition for being a “real Israeli,” with 90% of Jews and 75% of citizens of other religions concurring.

Israelis were also equally split on whether being a “real Israeli” hinged on service in the Israel Defense Forces, with 78% of Jews (sans the ultra-Orthodox, who generally do not serve) agreeing, and 75% of non-Jews and the ultra-Orthodox disagreeing.

IDF soldiers were also the group rated most positively in terms of contribution to the state’s success, followed by the Druze community. At the bottom of the list, and ranked as negatively affecting the country, were Muslim Arabs, Haredim, and Bedouin.

Nonetheless, 88% percent of Jews and 85% of non-Jews say they feel comfortable being themselves in Israel. For non-Jews, the figure was up by some 6% compared to a 2018 survey and 9% from 2017.

IDF soldiers stand still as the memorial siren sounds during the ceremony marking Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The pluralism index also comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu courts his future coalition partners, the largest of which are the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, which are said to be seeking to cement Shabbat observance in Israel.

According to the survey, 85% of Jewish Israeli don’t work on the Jewish day of rest, and 13% do. Slightly over half (51%) of all Jewish Israelis go shopping on Saturdays at least occasionally (including 82% of secular Jews), and 63% travel on Shabbat.

The poll also found that younger secular Israelis were more critical of the requirement in Israel to get married through the Chief Rabbinate than their older counterparts, with 68% of those between the ages of 15 and 24 saying they will not or did not get married through the religious authorities. The figure drops steadily by age, plummeting to 14% among those 65 or older.

Most Jewish Israelis, however, object to a secular burial (80%), according to the index.

On kashrut observance, 25% of respondents said they don’t eat kosher, another 9% said they don’t keep kosher but won’t consume pork, 34% said they only eat kosher, and the remaining 32% said they keep kosher with various exceptions.

Most Popular
read more: