Nearly three-quarters of the non-haredi Jewish population support the exclusion of ultra-Orthodox parties from the governing coalition, the Hiddush annual index on religion and state shows.
The Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group published the index, now in its sixth year, just ahead of Rosh Hashana. The poll is designed to track public opinion on the main questions regarding religion in the public domain.
Seventy-three percent of non-haredi respondents said they support the formation of a government without ultra-Orthodox parties. This included 69% of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu supporters and 92% of Yesh Atid supporters, but only 37% of Bayit Yehudi supporters. Only 10% of respondents who said they voted for ultra-Orthodox parties favored excluding the haredi parties from government.
The two mainstream haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have rarely been absent from government, but were excluded from the current coalition largely on the insistence of Yesh Atid and its chairman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
Various factions of the current coalition have tried, although not always successfully, to pass legislation designed to reform aspects of the relationship between the state and religious life, reform religious bureaucracy, or to reverse benefits enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox community secured for them by haredi parties in previous governments.
Such legislation has roused the ire of the haredi political and rabbinic leadership, but in several instances they have not been able to prevent the laws in question from being passed.
At the same time, Shas and UTJ are eager to get back into the governing coalition at the expense of Yesh Atid in order to stymie the flow of legislation they see as harming their political and social interests.
However, the poll also indicated a lack of satisfaction by all sectors with the government’s handling of issues of religion and state.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they were not satisfied with the coalition’s activities in this field, but this included members of the haredi community, 98% of whom said they were unhappy with the government’s activities in this regard, while 85% of the secular public expressed similar sentiments.
Responding to a question regarding the Yesh Atid chairman, 74% of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied with the efforts of Lapid and his party in the realm of religion and state.
The Rafi Smith Institute conducted the poll between August 11 and 17 from a sample of 800 people from the Jewish Israeli population.
In another question posed by the index, 60% of haredi respondents said they opposed the statement that freedom of choice and behavior in respect to religion should be guaranteed for secular and religious people alike.
This figure is up dramatically from 2013 when it stood at 23%, although it had been at a previous high of 53% back in 2009 when the index began.
Thirty-eight percent of national-religious respondents also said they opposed freedom of religion and conscience.
The proportion of the Jewish population as a whole supporting freedom of religion and conscience was 84%.
The index addressed attitudes to policies, some of which have been proposed by the current government, that would grant state benefits to those who work, or are seeking work, and to those who perform national service of some kind.
Support for these ideas was extremely high among the non-haredi population and they were largely opposed by ultra-Orthodox respondents.
Eighty-three percent of the Jewish public, and 87% of the non-haredi public, believe that preference should be given in the allocation of benefits and discounts by the state to those who are working or are seeking employment, compared to 37% support for this notion in the haredi community.
Furthermore, 83% of the Jewish public, including 89% of the non-haredi population, support preferential treatment in the allocation of state benefits and discounts for those who serve in the army or perform national service of some kind, while 22% of the haredi public favor such proposals.
However, a bill proposed by Yesh Atid to exempt some young couples from paying the 18 percent value-added tax on their first home if they meet certain conditions, including having performed national service, has faced significant opposition and delays amid questions about the legality and the cost of such stipulations.
The general public is supportive of positive discrimination for haredi men seeking employment in the civil service, with 56% of respondents in favor of the proposal. The government is considering just such a measure.
In a separate question, the poll showed that 61% of those surveyed are now in favor of a separation between religion and state, the highest proportion since the index began in 2009. That compares with 56% in 2012 and 60% in 2013.
Hiddush said it believed that people were not in favor of a complete separation, but of greater freedom of choice than is currently available.
Meanwhile, 71% of the Jewish public is dissatisfied with the Chief Rabbinate, with 40% of respondents declaring themselves to be “very dissatisfied.”
In another critical issue relating to the religion and state nexus in Israel, 66% of the Jewish population supports the creation of a system of civil marriage and the recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish marriages.
Religious authorities in Israel have exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce in Israel, so civil marriage is not available, non-Orthodox weddings are not recognized, and anyone wishing to marry someone not recognized as from the same religion is forced to go abroad in order to tie the knot. Upon return, their marriage is recognized by the Interior Ministry.
Of late, a vigorous debate has sprung up, once again, around the opening of businesses on Shabbat, in particular grocery stores in Tel Aviv.
The municipal council approved regulations allowing large numbers of stores to open on the Sabbath, but the decision was not approved by Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar.
Sixty-five percent of respondents from of the Jewish public said they were in favor of opening grocery stores in Tel Aviv, while 85% of the city’s residents expressed approval for the idea.
Meanwhile, 70% of the Jewish population said they were in favor of operating public transport on Shabbat. Of those, 45% support limited public transport on central lines only and at a reduced frequency, while 25% were in favor of a full timetable of public transport options.
Hiddush director, attorney and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev said the index reflected an increase over previous years in support for various religious freedoms.
“It illustrates the insufferable gap between the firm position of the public and the policies of Israeli governments throughout history, including the current one,” Regev said.
“Public pressure brought about the establishment of a government without haredi parties in which Yesh Atid has a senior role. But the changes which this government has enacted on the issue of religious freedom are negligible and it is no wonder, therefore, that three-quarters of the public are not satisfied with the government or Yesh Atid in this arena,” he said.