Newspaper article International New York Times

Poll Finds Religious Rifts among Israeli Jews

Newspaper article International New York Times

Poll Finds Religious Rifts among Israeli Jews

Article excerpt

The Pew Research Center found that religious and social divisions are reflected in "starkly contrasting positions on many public policy questions."

A majority of Israeli Jews marry within their own religious or secular subgroups, and they inhabit largely separate social worlds, according to the findings of a survey exposing the deep gulfs over the role of religion in Israeli politics and society.

The in-depth study of religion in Israel conducted by the Pew Research Center in Washington, released on Tuesday, found that religious and social divisions are reflected in "starkly contrasting positions on many public policy questions," and in profoundly differing attitudes toward the character of Israel.

So while 89 percent of Israel's secular Jews, who make up 40 percent of the population, think that democratic principles should take precedence over Jewish law on issues where the two collide, 89 percent of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews, a smaller but fast-growing group, think the opposite.

The study found substantial differences among Israeli Jews on crucial questions. Even among self-identified centrists -- 55 percent of the Israeli Jews surveyed -- opinion was split three ways on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Over all, a third believed the settlements hurt Israel's security, another third thought they helped the country's security and the remainder said they made no difference.

One striking finding was that nearly half of Israeli Jews who responded to the survey said that Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, although Israeli pollsters found the wording of the question problematic.

The study also looked at Israel's Muslim, Christian and Druse minorities, who collectively make up about one-fifth of Israel's population of about 8.5 million. They are an increasingly important force in Israeli politics but sociologically remain quite separate: Only 1 percent reported a spouse of a different religion.

For Israeli pundits and pollsters, the results were mostly unsurprising. "We are a people who engage in navel-gazing," said Tamar Hermann, a professor of political science at the Open University of Israel and a public opinion expert who was an unpaid adviser on the Pew study.

But for a broader, non-Israeli audience, she and other experts said, the degree of internal disjuncture could be jolting.

"These groups live in the same country, a small country, but it's almost like they live in different worlds," said Alan Cooperman, Pew's director of religion research. "All societies have various kinds of fractures and divisions, but the size of the fractures in Israel from a pollster's point of view are jaw-dropping."

He described those fractures as "ethnic and religious and deep and very real and alive in political discussions," with practical implications.

Questions about Jewish law versus democracy may seem theoretical, Mr. Cooperman said, "but it is where the rubber meets the road on policy questions like whether public transportation is running and planes are flying on the Sabbath."

The Jewish majority is still united by various factors, including support for Israel as a refuge, with unlimited Jewish immigration.

Most Israeli Jews perceive anti-Semitism as being on the rise around the world and believe Israel is essential for the long-term survival of the Jewish people.

And despite the diametrically opposed positions of some sectors regarding the place of Jewish law, the survey indicates that 76 percent of Israeli Jews believe that Israel can be both a Jewish state and a democracy. Among the Arab population, 64 percent do not believe it can be both.

Local experts said that although Israelis frequently poll themselves on similar issues, the unusually large scope of the Pew survey gives it weight and validity. …

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