Most Israelis support non-Orthodox, want their taxes to help Diaspora

Poll shows strong ties between Israeli, overseas Jews.

israeli jews 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
israeli jews 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A majority of Israeli Jews support equality for non-Orthodox religious streams, and two-thirds back government spending to help struggling overseas Jewish communities hurt by the economic crisis, according to a new study. Fully 54 percent of those polled support granting equal status and funding to the liberal Jewish streams and their rabbinic leadership, according to the fourth annual Survey of Contemporary Israeli Attitudes toward World Jewry, a poll of 500 Israeli Jews over 18 that was conducted early this month. Just 36% opposed giving equal status to the liberal streams. Israelis still prefer, by a margin of 49% to 44%, to have conversions remain in the hands of the state's Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate, suggesting that some 10% support religious pluralism but want to maintain the Rabbinate's stricter conversion standards. That support drops slightly once again on the question of patrilineal descent. Whereas Jewish law dictates that one must have a Jewish mother, or convert, to be a Jew (57% agreed with this), some 39% said Jewish identity could also come from the father. The poll was commissioned by the B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem and conducted by KEEVOON Research ahead of the 17th annual Award for Journalism Recognizing Excellence in Diaspora Reportage for 2009, which will be awarded on Wednesday at the capital's Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Israeli Jews showed a significant level of identification with Diaspora communities. Nearly 60% supported spending their tax money on "basic services like education, healthcare and food to Diaspora Jewish communities that are struggling in light of the recent global economic situation," the survey found. Just 36% were against this. The support was much higher - 73% - among Israeli Jews aged 18 to 24, suggesting that the feeling of responsibility for the Diaspora may be strengthening among Israelis. "Attitudes of Israelis toward the Jewish Diaspora are in constant flux and are impacted by events taking place in both communities," B'nai B'rith World Center director Alan Schneider said. But, he added, "our survey revealed that the Israeli-Diaspora relationship is very important to Israelis. The concern shown by Israelis for the well-being of the Diaspora and their consideration for the opinions voiced by Diaspora Jewry is unique." The respondents were also asked to reflect on the reported rift between Israel and the new US administration. Forty-six percent said American Jewish groups were "not doing enough to bridge policy differences and ease the tensions between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government." Just 23% disagreed with this sentiment, perhaps suggesting that these organizations' work is not visible to average Israelis. Half of Israelis believe Diaspora Jews should consider Israelis' opinions when deciding who to vote for in their local elections or which of their governments' policies to support. Forty percent said Israelis should consider the opinions of Diaspora Jews when making similar decisions in Israel. Interestingly, 32% of Israeli Jews said the pro-Israel lobby in the US was "free to openly oppose the policies of the current Israeli government" - a figure exactly equal to the number of Jewish-held Knesset seats not represented in the current governing coalition.