Pluralism group pushed Kadima to advance religion-state con

80% of Kadima voters favor ending Orthodox monopoly on marriage and conversion.

The pro-religious freedom organization Hiddush worked behind the scenes to persuade Kadima to move matters of religion and state to the top of the party’s agenda immediately before Kadima leader Tzipi Livni gave a series of high-profile interviews on the topic, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Livni made headlines when she complained about haredim not serving in the army, not joining the work force, and not learning the core curriculum in interviews with the Hebrew press at the beginning of May. In the interviews, she accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of “paying off” the haredim so that he could avoid making a decision on the peace process.
“Israel 2010 is a country in which women ride in the back of the bus,dry bones take precedence over saving lives, conversion is a missionimpossible, the Zionist vision has blurred and defining the Jewishstate has been given to a monopoly of ultra-Orthodox politicians thatare taking advantage of the system and politicians,” she complained inone interview.
A few days before the interviews, Hiddush leaders conveyed the findingsof a comprehensive Smith Research poll they sponsored that found thatsome 80 percent of Kadima voters favor ending the Orthodox monopoly onmarriage and conversion, support separating religion from state,believe the haredi parties have too much power and back cutting statefunding for yeshivot and child welfare payments.
Hiddush also presented the findings at an April 29 Kadima councilmeeting on matters of religion and state and sent them to all Kadimacouncil members.
Since then, Kadima also announced a full-day symposium on Jewishidentity that will take place at the Knesset Thursday and Kadima MKShlomo Molla formed a new Knesset caucus for religious pluralism inIsrael on Tuesday with 11 MKs.
“The numbers we learned at that council meeting had a big impact on meand many other Kadima MKs,” Molla said. “I believe the time has come towelcome American Reform and Conservative Jews to Israel through thefront door and not the back door. We planned on forming the lobby for awhile but Hiddush strengthened our opinion that it was essential.”
The Hiddush poll also found that 35% of respondents said there was agood chance they would vote for a party that would support the strugglefor religious freedom and equality. The number was 44% among undecidedvoters and 48% among respondents who defined themselves as Kadimavoters, as secular or as immigrants.
When asked whether additional political activity for religious freedomwould make them more likely to vote for a party, 58% of Kadima votersand 57% of Meretz and Labor voters said yes. Just 10% of Kadima voterssaid this would make them less likely to vote for the party again.
Hiddush also provided Kadima leaders and council members withstatistics of haredim not serving in the IDF, Israelis prohibited frommarrying in the country, and gender-segregated bus lines.
“Clearly the political arena is ready to focus on religious freedomagain years after the meltdown of Shinui,” Hiddush director-generalRabbi Uri Regev said.
“While one cannot take polls to reflect scientifically accuratenumbers, they indicate a tendency that cannot be underestimated. Thereis too high a percentage of voters who say religious freedom is a toppriority and may shape their votes. Clearly Tzipi Livni is attentive tothe public feelings because she is astute and because we brought thefigures to the attention of Kadima’s leaders.”
Regev stressed that he believed that the importance of Israel remaininga Jewish-democratic state had always been a top priority for Livni, buthe said he would be surprised if Hiddush’s numbers did not affect herthinking ahead of her spree of interviews on matters of religion andstate.
“I think she is a work in progress, but she is gradually realizing thatthis issue will not go away and she needs to focus on it more,” Regevsaid.
Livni’s associates responded that “anyone who has heard her speak overthe past 10 years knows that the diplomatic issue and the importance ofkeeping Israel both Jewish and democratic are the two issues she speaksabout the most, so I don’t think anyone thinks they can take credit forwhat she says about those issues.”