86% of Jewish Israelis support freedom of religion and conscience
2015 Religion & State Index - support for religious freedom rises
The good news, illuminated by the 2015 Israel Religion & State Index, is the continually increasing Israeli public support for freedom of religion and equality of burden. The bad news is the gaping divide between the public’s will on matters of religion and state and the Government’s coalition agreements.
Click here to download the 2015 Israel Religion and State Index
I have been committed to strengthening Israel economically for over a quarter century and have worked diligently to build a strong and lasting relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community.
As the years have passed, I have become more and more concerned about the crippling unholy alliance between religion and state.
The findings of the new Religion and State Index confirm my concerns and validate my conviction that one cannot exaggerate the necessity to finally break this union so that Israel can truly be the “home for all Jews” as Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly declared. I sincerely believe that, for Israel to remain strong, the advancement of religious freedom is no less important than the strengthening its economy and defense.
- Stanley P. Gold, Hiddush U.S. Chairman
Hiddush is pleased to present the findings of the 2015 Israel Religion and State Index. The good news, illuminated by the Index, is the continually increasing Israeli public support for freedom of religion and equality of burden. The bad news is the gaping divide between the public’s will on matters of religion and state and the Government’s coalition agreements. 79% of the Jewish public oppose the Coalition’s intention to increase the budgets for yeshivas and yeshiva student benefits. 82% of the Israeli public, contrary to these agreements, support the mandatory implementation of core curricular studies in all ultra-Orthodox schools.
Hiddush’s annual Israel Religion and State Index is the most systematic and comprehensive public opinion research poll on matters of religion and state in Israel. It has been conducted by the Rafi Smith Polling Institute for Hiddush ever since its inception in 2009. The Index has been used by the media, decision makers, community leaders and public opinion molders in Israel and the Diaspora, as well as civil society organizations. Nothing compares to the Index when it comes to monitoring and analyzing the public mood on matters of religious freedom and equality of burden.
The gap between the public's views and the government’s policies is also illustrated by the polling results on questions related to freedom of marriage and divorce. 64% of Israelis favor recognizing all types of marriage, including civil, Reform and Conservative. This is not a purely theoretical figure, for 70% of secular Jews and 67% of immigrants indicated their preference for a non-Orthodox framework for marriage, were one available. Another significant finding: 64% of Israeli Jews, the highest figure ever, expressed their support for full recognition of marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples.
The challenge for those who desire change is reflected in the following statistic: Only 58% of secular Israeli Jews favor the view that the secular parties should make support for civil marriage and divorce a condition for entering the Coalition. 62% of the public is opposed. In order for the politicians to feel enough public pressure to legislate freedom of civil marriage, organizations such as Hiddush that advocate religious freedom must convince the traditional and moderate Orthodox public that the issue of marriage freedom is not merely theoretical but must become an important, central facet of Israel’s political agenda. This also highlights the importance of Diaspora Jewish partnership with Israelis in advocating for marriage freedom, as it impacts them as well, and their participation will greatly strengthen the forces for change.
The public’s disgust with the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly, which perpetuates ultra-Orthodox religious coercion, is clearly illustrated by the following polling data: 73%, almost three-quarters of the Jewish public, support doing away with the Rabbinate’s monopoly over Kashrut certification, and 67% oppose making kashrut certification conditional upon Sabbath observance. Hiddush achieved a significant victory in this field by threatening legal action against the Chief Rabbinate for its illegal hotel kashrut regulations, which were revised as a result, to allow the use of musical instruments, video projection and photography during private events on Saturdays, as well as rescinding the demand that no non-Jewish symbols be displayed during the New Year’s/Christmas season. Unfortunately, we may be forced to launch another battle against the Rabbinate, for they seem to be resistant to upholding their own newly issued Kashrut regulations.
One encouraging finding is that support for freedom of religion has reached peak levels in the 2015 Index. 86% of the Jewish public supports freedom of religion and conscience in Israel. Also encouraging is the increase in support that has occurred among the ultra-Orthodox public, which has risen from only 40% support for freedom of religion and conscience in the previous Index to 56% support this year. However, this finding may indicate that some ultra-Orthodox respondents were only expressing support for freedom of religion for themselves, not for others, whether Jewish or not. 59% of the ultra-Orthodox public continues to support denying Christians the right to pray in the Room of the Last Supper, compared to only 11% among the general public. 24% of ultra-Orthodox Jews believe that we need not deal with the extremists who spit at Christian clergymen, responding that “this is not a crime and not a problem.”
Israel’s Declaration of Independence promised its citizens freedom of religion and equality. Unfortunately, freedom of religion and equality in shouldering the civic burden repeatedly fall victim to the political parties’ and politicians’ conviction that they will pay no political price should they ignore the public’s will. The Religion and State Index shows how new Government policies and the new state budget move us further away from these important values, and exposes the cynicism of Israel’s political system that disregards the public’s will. It is possible and critical to fight against this bad budget and prevent its passage. The clearer it becomes that the public objects to carrying out the sweeping concessions made in the coalition agreements, the greater the chance that MKs will be emboldened to thwart them.
The previous government created an important window of opportunity for civil revolution in Israel. Unfortunately, it only managed to make a few, limited changes, and the new coalition intends to reverse even these. A civil government can and should be reestablished, in the hopes that the opportunity will not be missed next time. 65% of the Jewish public expressed the preference for a government without the ultra-Orthodox parties! In order for this to happen, it is essential that the public speak up loud and clear, for only a strong and un-equivocal expression of the public rejection of a Haredi-based coalition government can bring our elected officials to listen and heed.
Upon reviewing the 2015 Index, Hiddush Chairman Stanley P. Gold reflected, "I have been committed to strengthening Israel economically for over a quarter century and have worked diligently to build a strong and lasting relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community.
"As the years have passed, I have become more and more concerned about the crippling unholy alliance between religion and state.
"The findings of the new Religion and State Index confirm my concerns and validate my conviction that one cannot exaggerate the necessity to finally break this union so that Israel can truly be the “home for all Jews” as Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly declared. I sincerely believe that, for Israel to remain strong, the advancement of religious freedom is no less important than the strengthening its economy and defense."