Most Israeli Jews back public buses on Shabbat and egalitarian prayer at Kotel

Israel Democracy Institute survey finds broad support for liberal policies, but also shows liberal Israelis don’t prioritize religion-and-state issues at the ballot box

Israeli soldiers guard at a bus stop in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on October 19, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers guard at a bus stop in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on October 19, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A majority of Israeli Jews want businesses to be permitted to open and public transportation to run on Shabbat, but do not prioritize these issues when they vote, according to a new study.

Fully 60 percent of Israeli Jews believe public transportation should be allowed on Shabbat throughout Israel, except in areas where observant Jews are a majority, the latest survey of Israelis by the Israel Democracy Institute has found.

The same number, 60%, also support opening supermarkets in areas where non-observant Jews are the majority.

Public buses and trains do not run in Israel from Friday night to Saturday night, in keeping with the Shabbat observance laws of Orthodox Judaism. Left-wing and secular activists have long chafed against the shuttering of public transportation, saying it disproportionately affects the poor, denying opportunities for weekend travel to families that do not own cars.

The divide among Israeli Jews closely follows their religious affiliations, with “overwhelming resistance” to public transportation on Shabbat (at 97% opposed) among the ultra-Orthodox, and fully 86% support among those who identify as secular.

Reform female and male rabbis pray together at Robinson’s Arch, the Western Wall site slated for future egalitarian services, on February 25, 2016. (Y.R/Reform Movement)

The figures are similar across most religion-and-state issues polled by IDI, suggesting Israeli Jews likely think about these issues through the prism of their religious identities.

Asked about the state rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut certification, 63% of Israeli Jews want it dismantled — 89% of the secular and 70% of the “traditional non-religious.” Nearly all ultra-Orthodox, 95.5%, back the rabbinate monopoly, together with 63% of national-religious and 48% of those who call themselves “traditional religious.”

On civil marriage, which does not exist in Israel, 59.5% of Israeli Jews back instituting it — 84.5% of secular Jews, 68% of the traditional non-religious, 41% of the traditional religious, and just 22.5% of the national-religious. Among the ultra-Orthodox, fully 96% oppose civil marriage.

On the question of ultra-Orthodox conscription to the Israel Defense Forces, the issue that torpedoed the last coalition talks in May and drove Israel to a redo election, fully 68.5% of Jews “support ‘recruiting young ultra-Orthodox’ while exempting a small number of outstanding scholars who will remain in yeshivas,” the IDI reported. Among secular and traditional non-religious, the figures are 79% and 70.5% respectively, dropping to 59% among national-religious.

Predictably, 91.5% of the ultra-Orthodox oppose such a policy.

Demonstrators protest in Ashdod against the closure of businesses in the city on Shabbat, on January 20, 2018. (Flash90)

On the question of allowing egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, only secular Jews show majority support at 78%, while the various religious subcultures all oppose the idea, the ultra-Orthodox almost unanimously (98.5%), the national-religious by 72.5%, and the traditional religious and tradition non-religious by 60% and 45%, respectively. Overall, that put support for egalitarian prayers at the holy site at 51.5% of Israeli Jews.

The survey also offers insight into one reason that ultra-Orthodox political parties have had an outsize influence over Israelis’ religious life: their voters care more about those issues.

Among the ultra-Orthodox, over two-thirds, 67.5%, say religion-and-state questions are of “paramount importance” when they decide whom to vote for. Among the national-religious, the number prioritizing religion and state plummets to 17.5%. Among the secular, it drops further to just 11%.

The other three choices were national security (rendered in the survey as “foreign affairs and security”), “society and economics” and “strengthening democracy.”

National security trumps the other issues among the national-religious, traditional religious and traditional non-religious, at 53%, 44% and 47%, respectively.

Illustrative: Thousands of haredim holding a prayer rally in Jerusalem’s Shabbat Square in opposition of the government’s plan to start drafting yeshiva students into military and national service on June 25, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Among secular Jews, the economy and welfare comes first in their voting considerations, at 45.5%, followed by national security at 28% and religion and state at 11%.

Taken together, 36.7% of all Israeli Jews put economic and social issues at the top, 36.2% prioritize national security, and just 15.5% say religion and state.

The survey offered other insights on Israeli attitudes. It showed, for example, the partisan way Israelis approach the debate over the country’s democratic ethos and institutions. Over a third, or 37.1%, of those who identified as politically “left” also said that “strengthening democracy” was their top consideration in choosing where to place their vote. On the right, it was just 1%. (Overall, it was the fourth most important issue to Israeli Jews, at 7%.)

The survey was conducted online via the PanelsLTD Online Survey on August 7 and 8 among 760 respondents, constituting a representative sample of the Jewish population, with a sampling error of 4%.

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