Majority of Likud voters support recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism

Majority of Likud voters support recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism

Reform Movement survey also finds most Likud supporters want Jerusalem to invest ‘significant resources’ in ties with Diaspora

A Jewish Agency-supported Reform service in Israel. (courtesy JAFI)
A Jewish Agency-supported Reform service in Israel. (courtesy JAFI)

A new poll commissioned by Israel’s Reform movement has found that most supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party think Israel should recognize all branches of Judaism and invest significant resources in ties with Jews around the world.

According to the poll, conducted among 400 people who identified as Likud voters, 71 percent of Netanyahu’s political base support official recognition of Reform and Conservative Judaism, and 66% said Israel should invest “significant resources” in connection with Diaspora Jews.

The Israel Movement for Reform & Progressive Judaism said it intends to present the findings of the survey to all the party’s lawmakers and to leaders of its local branches, to try and persuade them to stop “ignoring” voters’ support for religious pluralism and “submitting to extreme pressure groups.”

The survey, carried out by the Dialogue Institute under the supervision of Dr. Kamil Fuchs, also found that most Likud voters support civil marriage in Israel and limited public transportation during the weekly rest day of Shabbat — topics which are not usually discussed by the government due to ultra-Orthodox objection.

The results were first published Monday on the Hebrew-language news website Walla, in the midst of political turmoil over the planned approval of the construction of a permanent egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which has divided opinions within the ruling coalition.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Culture Minister Miri Regev recently quit the committee meant to discuss the Western Wall plan, citing her conscience and “Jewish tradition,” reportedly following pressure from Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox-affiliated factions in the Likud party. Following her lead, the two other committee members, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the religious Jewish Home party and Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay of the ultra-Orthodox Shas, also resigned.

But Netanyahu has been seeming to insist on approving the construction of the pluralistic platform, appointing himself to head the committee instead of Regev and his loyalist, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, to replace Shaked.

The committee isn’t expected to convene until the appointment of a replacement for Azoulay, and the construction works will be delayed.

Following the controversy, some rabbis in Israel recently voiced strong criticism of non-Orthodox Jews, at a time when Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry has been rocky to begin with.

According to the report, 63% of the respondents to the poll said they support an alternative marriage mechanism to the one controlled today by the Chief Rabbinate, with 30% objecting and 7% saying they don’t know.

And 65% of Likud voters said they support public transportation during Shabbat, without buses going through areas where most residents are religious. Some 29% objected and the rest said they don’t know.

The platform for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall (courtesy)

Opinions were more evenly divided on the issue of the egalitarian Western Wall plaza, with 41% supporting Netanyahu’s intention to approve the permanent mixed-gender platform, 32% opposing it and no less than 27% saying they haven’t made up their mind.

Regarding Regev, 37% said she was wrong to quit the committee and refuse to authorize the construction, 36% said she was right to do so, and 28% didn’t express an opinion.

Some 100 Likud activists last week published a letter last week backing Regev’s rejection of the committee.

“We support the bold decision of Culture Minister Miri Regev to protect the sanctity of the Western Wall and to not allow the creation of a Reform plaza next to it,” read the letter. “We stand with you in the struggle for the Western Wall,” they told Regev.

Asked whether Netanyahu and Likud ministers should publicly oppose verbal attacks by rabbis and ultra-Orthodox politicians on Reform Jews, 44% said they should, 26% said they should support the attacks, and 31% said they don’t know.

Referring to the survey’s findings, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Reform movement, said that “unfortunately, some of the Likud’s elected officials ignore this fact and choose to submit to extreme pressure groups that take control of power centers in the ruling party.

“There is no reason for the party to align itself with extremist and controversial elements,” he added in a statement. “We hope that Likud supporters will act to change this sad reality.”

The original decision to build the pavilion dates back to January 31, 2016, when the government — spurred by decades of high-profile activism by the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall — approved the so-called Western Wall compromise. Painstakingly negotiated since 2012 with leaders of liberal Judaism and other prominent figures, it provided for the construction of a permanent pluralistic area at the site of a currently existing temporary one. Other key aspects of the plan included a single entrance to the area to be shared with the Orthodox gender-segregated prayer plaza, and the establishment of a board of pluralistic Jewry to oversee the mixed-gender area.

But on June 25, 2017, Netanyahu froze the compromise. While killing off the joint entrance and pluralistic governing board, however, he vowed to continue with the construction of a permanent platform.

Archaeological checks close to the platform began in February 2018 by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is tasked by the government with overseeing new construction. But bureaucratic hurdles remain in the building process.

The Robinson’s Arch pluralistic prayer area is currently on several levels, with a small platform that touches the Western Wall. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)

Although back in 2016 the initial plan was warmly embraced by liberal and Diaspora Jewry, it was immediately met with controversy, as Israeli ultra-Orthodox politicians, who initially allowed the proposal to advance, responded to grassroots pressure in their communities to step in and work to prevent its implementation.

As a result, several Diaspora Jewish organizations took up the cause of the pluralistic platform, which has become a point of increased friction. The ongoing saga quickly reached the High Court, which has since held multiple hearings on the matter.

The pluralistic pavilion is located in the Davidson Archaeological Park, in an area called Robinson’s Arch. It is out of sight of the current mainstream Orthodox prayer plaza, separated from it by the ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate, which is the only entrance for non-Muslims to the Temple Mount.

If completed, the new permanent pavilion will greatly enlarge the modest prayer deck, which has served liberal Jews since 2000. Likewise, it will replace the larger temporary bleacher-like platform that was put up ahead of the High Holy Days in 2013.

Raoul Wootliff and Amanda Borschel-Dan contributed to this report.

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