Most Israelis want ultra-Orthodox parties out of government, survey finds
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Most Israelis want ultra-Orthodox parties out of government, survey finds

Majority of Jewish residents want governing coalition to support religious freedom, back separation of religion and state

Shas party chairman and Minsiter of Interior Affairs Aryeh Deri leads a party meeting at the Knesset on September 22, 2019, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas party chairman and Minsiter of Interior Affairs Aryeh Deri leads a party meeting at the Knesset on September 22, 2019, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JTA — Israeli voters delivered an inconclusive result in the September 17 election. More than a week after the vote, it’s still unclear what shape Israel’s government will take.

But a majority of Jewish voters is clear on one thing: They want their next government to be less religious than it is now.

A new survey by Hiddush, an Israeli organization that supports religious pluralism, shows that 57 percent of the Jewish Israeli electorate does not want the incoming governing coalition to include or depend on parties that are ultra-Orthodox. That 57% majority also wants the coalition to support religious freedom in Israel.

Thirty-four percent of Israeli Jews disagree: They want the ultra-Orthodox parties in a governing coalition and are happy with current government policy, which gives ultra-Orthodox legislators significant influence over Israeli law. The religious parties have been part of the government coalition since 2015 and have sat in a series of governments throughout Israel’s history.

The survey’s finding is significant because some of the harshest rhetoric ahead of the election centered on religious issues. Secular parties accused ultra-Orthodox parties of wanting to establish a theocracy in Israel. Religious parties claimed that secular factions wanted to deprive Israel of its religious character. The main reason for the election last week, Israel’s second in a year, was an intractable conflict between ultra-Orthodox parties and Avigdor Liberman’s secular Yisrael Beytenu after the previous election in April.

Supporters of the Shas party react as results of elections are announced, September 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Nearly all of those who voted for Blue and White, the centrist party led by Benny Gantz opposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, want a secular governing coalition. Most voters for Netanyahu’s Likud party, 56%, support a coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties, while 44% favor a secular coalition.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents also said that support for religious freedom was a significant factor in their vote.

The survey was conducted on September 22 and included 600 Jewish Israeli respondents. The margin of error was 4%.

“The elections have unfolded in a way that so clearly points to the concern that Israelis feel with the unholy alliance of religion and state,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, Hiddush’s founder. “The more Haredi political leaders felt triumphant, the more they felt they could cash in on their political fortunes, the more Israelis became frustrated and ready to push back.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman during Litzman’s grandson’s wedding festivities, June 18, 2017. ( Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)

The survey follows an annual one by Hiddush on religion in Israel. That survey, like past ones, shows that a solid majority of Israeli Jews want government policy to be far less influenced by Orthodox law than it is now.

  • 64% of respondents want there to be separation of religion and state in Israel.
  • 68% want Israel to recognize civil marriages. At present, Israel only recognizes Orthodox Jewish marriages.
  • 64% do not want any religious body to have governmental authority in Israel. At present, Israel’s Orthodox Chief Rabbinate controls marriage, divorce, burial and other affairs in Israel.
  • 62% want Israel to recognize a range of Jewish conversion ceremonies — not just Orthodox ones.

The survey found that, similar to previous years, half of Israeli Jews identify as secular, 31% as traditional, 11% as Modern Orthodox and 10 percent as ultra-Orthodox. The survey also found that 6% of Israeli Jews self-identify as Conservative and 7% as Reform — though Israelis don’t typically use those terms to define their religious practice.

Politically, 45% of Israeli Jews are right-wing and 19% are right-leaning.

Twenty percent are centrist and 16% are left-wing or left-leaning.

The annual survey was taken from August 6 to 11, and included 753 Jewish Israeli adult respondents. The margin of error was 3.6 percent.

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