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Pluralism group pushed Kadima to advance religion-state con
By Gil Stern Stern HOFFMAN
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 mission impossible, the Zionist vision has blurred and defining the Jewish state has been given to a monopoly of ultra-Orthodox politicians that are taking advantage of the system and politicians,” she complained in one interview.

A few days before the interviews, Hiddush leaders conveyed the findings of a comprehensive Smith Research poll they sponsored that found that some 80 percent of Kadima voters favor ending the Orthodox monopoly on marriage and conversion, support separating religion from state, believe the haredi parties have too much power and back cutting state funding for yeshivot and child welfare payments.

Hiddush also presented the findings at an April 29 Kadima council meeting on matters of religion and state and sent them to all Kadima council members.

Since then, Kadima also announced a full-day symposium on Jewish identity that will take place at the Knesset Thursday and Kadima MK Shlomo Molla formed a new Knesset caucus for religious pluralism in Israel on Tuesday with 11 MKs.

“The numbers we learned at that council meeting had a big impact on me and many other Kadima MKs,” Molla said. “I believe the time has come to welcome American Reform and Conservative Jews to Israel through the front door and not the back door. We planned on forming the lobby for a while but Hiddush strengthened our opinion that it was essential.”

The Hiddush poll also found that 35% of respondents said there was a good chance they would vote for a party that would support the struggle for religious freedom and equality. The number was 44% among undecided voters and 48% among respondents who defined themselves as Kadima voters, as secular or as immigrants.

When asked whether additional political activity for religious freedom would make them more likely to vote for a party, 58% of Kadima voters and 57% of Meretz and Labor voters said yes. Just 10% of Kadima voters said this would make them less likely to vote for the party again.

Hiddush also provided Kadima leaders and council members with statistics of haredim not serving in the IDF, Israelis prohibited from marrying in the country, and gender-segregated bus lines.

“Clearly the political arena is ready to focus on religious freedom again years after the meltdown of Shinui,” Hiddush director-general Rabbi Uri Regev said.

“While one cannot take polls to reflect scientifically accurate numbers, they indicate a tendency that cannot be underestimated. There is too high a percentage of voters who say religious freedom is a top priority and may shape their votes. Clearly Tzipi Livni is attentive to the public feelings because she is astute and because we brought the figures to the attention of Kadima’s leaders.”

Regev stressed that he believed that the importance of Israel remaining a Jewish-democratic state had always been a top priority for Livni, but he said he would be surprised if Hiddush’s numbers did not affect her thinking ahead of her spree of interviews on matters of religion and state.

“I think she is a work in progress, but she is gradually realizing that this issue will not go away and she needs to focus on it more,” Regev said.

Livni’s associates responded that “anyone who has heard her speak over the past 10 years knows that the diplomatic issue and the importance of keeping Israel both Jewish and democratic are the two issues she speaks about the most, so I don’t think anyone thinks they can take credit for what she says about those issues.”
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