Poll finds majority of Israelis want equal status for all religious streams

Survey: Government should consider Diaspora Jews in policies.

Reform rabbis in Jerusalem. [File] (photo credit: Reuters)
Reform rabbis in Jerusalem. [File]
(photo credit: Reuters)
  • By GIL HOFFMAN The Conservative and Reform movements in Israel should be given status equal to that of the Orthodox movement in matters of conversion and marriage, a majority of Israeli Jews believe, according to an Israel Democracy Institute poll set to be presented Wednesday.
The poll was taken for the Jewish Media Summit taking place in Jerusalem, where its results will be presented by Prof. Tamar Hermann, the academic director of IDI’s Guttman Center for Surveys.
It found that the viewpoints of Israelis on Diaspora issues are often contradictory.
For instance, 51 percent believe pluralist movements should be of equal status, while 43% do not believe the other Jewish denominations should be given such status.
But 52% oppose allocating government funds to Reform and Conservative communities and rabbis, while 40% support such a move.
The results also found an apparent contradiction when it comes to taking Diaspora Jews into account in Israel’s decision- making.
A large majority of Israeli Jews think the Israeli government should take into consideration how key decisions will influence the situation of Diaspora Jews, 71-26%.
But only 51% said the viewpoints of Diaspora Jews should be taken into account when such decisions are made, while 47% do not think it is necessary.
Sixty-two percent of Israeli Jews believe that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora share a common fate, while 35% disagree.
Sixty percent believe the Jewish people in Israel are a nation separate from Jews abroad, while 36% disagree.
When asked to choose what defines the primary connection between Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora, a plurality of Israeli Jews selected Jewish culture and tradition (40%), followed by religious law (18%), nationality (13%), anti-Semitism (13%), and blood relations and genetics (6%). Seven percent said all the options equally define the primary connection.
Eight-one percent of respondents said they were interested in knowing what’s happening with Jews in the Diaspora. Eighteen percent said they were not interested.
When asked to select which of the following issues was most important for world Jewry to make its top priority, a plurality said assimilation in the Diaspora (29%) followed by anti-Semitism (24%), a strong connection to Israel (13%), influencing local politicians on issues related to Israel (9%), the BDS movement (6%), and financial support of Israel (5%). Nine percent of respondents said all of the objectives were of equal importance.
Despite all of the other matters of importance on the agenda of the Israeli government, 91% of Israeli Jews said aliya of Jews from around the world to Israel is an issue of importance and 8% of respondents do not believe that aliya is an important issue.
The survey of 477 respondents who constitute a representative sample of the adult Jewish population of Israel was conducted last month. The maximum measurement error for a sample of this size is ±4.6%.
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which educates Israeli decision-makers about Diaspora Jews, criticized the results of the poll.
“While the Israel Democracy Institute poll shows Israelis are interested in the Diaspora and appreciate the connection between the Jewish state and the Jewish people living outside of Israel, the poll reveals Israelis approach the relationship from a feeling of superiority,” Ruderman said. “A successful relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry must be based on mutual respect. This mutual respect can only be achieved by educating Israelis on the reality of life in the Diaspora. Failure to do so will result in the continuation of a patronizing Israeli attitude toward the Diaspora which will only further alienate Diaspora Jews from Israel.”
Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, said in response that it was noteworthy that a slim majority of Israeli Jews for the first time believe that all Israeli Jews should have equal standing on matters of conversion and marriage. He said that while the numbers were not yet large, it was obvious in what direction such attitudes were heading.
“Much has been said about the bond between Israeli and Diaspora Jews but never before has it been as strong as reflected in this new survey,” he said. “It is clear that increasing numbers of Israeli Jews identify with their Diaspora brothers and sisters, believe we share a common destiny and even think consideration should be given to how decisions the Israeli government makes will affect Diaspora Jewry – to the point of consulting them beforehand. This is a watershed moment in that special relationship.”
Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director-General Dvir Kahane said he was concerned about the 20% of the population that does not want to maintain a connection with the Diaspora.
He expressed confidence that his ministry’s initiatives would strengthen the connection.