Over two-thirds of Israeli Jews want the ongoing coalition talks to end with a unity government that excludes the ultra-Orthodox parties and advances religious pluralism, according to a public opinion poll published Tuesday.
Sixty-six percent of the Jewish public prefers a government that includes the two largest parties — Likud and Blue and White (which both won 35 seats in April 9’s elections) — and that leaves out the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, a poll conducted by the Hiddush organization for religious pluralism found, as opposed to 34% of Jewish Israelis who support a more narrow coalition, including the ultra-Orthodox parties and maintaining the status quo on issues of religion and state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to form a 65-strong coalition including the two ultra-Orthodox parties; Blue and White is set to lead the opposition.
The numbers favoring a unity government were highest among Blue and White voters — at an overwhelming 98%. Eighty-four percent of Yisrael Beytenu voters also expressed support for a government devoid of ultra-Orthodox parties — indicative of chairman Avigdor Liberman’s ardent support for secular policies such as civil marriage and public transportation on Shabbat. Some 55% of Likud voters also support such a unity government, according to the poll.
Survey participants were also asked how important it was to them that the party they voted for go on to “fight in the Knesset to promote freedom of religion” and related issues such as regulating Haredi students’ military draft exemptions, civil marriage and divorce and public transportation on Shabbat. Sixty-five percent of respondents said it was “very important” to them while just 19% said it “wasn’t that important” to them and 16% said they were against the party they voted for acting on these issues. Eighty-nine percent of secular voters said it was “very important” for the party they voted for to promote religious pluralism, as opposed to 79% of traditional Jewish Israelis, 42% of not so religious Jewish Israelis, 15% of religious Jewish Israelis and 6% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis.
The findings were the result of a telephone survey conducted by the Smith Institute on April 16 and 17, with 600 people polled as a representative sample of Israel’s adult Jewish population. The margin of error was 4%.
Hiddush, which commissioned the poll, advocates for the same policies the results indicated most Israelis support.
Coalition negotiations began Sunday between Likud and Liberman’s secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu, with the latter presenting a list of demands on security, immigration, and religion and state issues.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin from Likud and Oded Forer of Yisrael Beytenu, heading their respective parties’ negotiation teams, met at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan for several hours.
The sides failed to come to any agreement and said they would meet again at a later date.
The most thorny issue is expected to be legislation regulating — and limiting — exemptions to military conscription for ultra-Orthodox students, which Liberman is insisting should be passed without amendment, while ultra-Orthodox parties have said they will not join the coalition if it is advanced without changes. Both Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox factions are essential for Netanyahu if he is to assemble a majority coalition.
Liberman, whose base of supporters is largely made up of secular immigrants from the former Soviet Union, campaigned on opposing “religious coercion,” and supports allowing mini-markets to remain open on Shabbat, in addition to ending the Chief Rabbinate’s control over marriage and divorce, and passing the enlistment bill.
Last week, the leader of United Torah Judaism insisted that he would not join Netanyahu’s new government if the proposed legislation on drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students into the army isn’t changed, heralding tough coalition-building negotiations for the premier.
Shas, UTJ, centrist Kulanu and the Union of Right-Wing Parties are all scheduled to hold their coalition negotiations with Likud representatives next week, after the Passover holiday. No such sit-downs are slated between Likud and Blue and White officials.