Posts Tagged With: Democracy

Do Israelis Agree with Their Own Declaration of Independence?

Israel's Declaration of Independence

Advocates of a Jewishly diverse and inclusive Israel sometimes point to the Declaration of Independence as proof of Israel’s fundamental support for civil liberties. The Israeli Declaration of Independence says that the State of Israel will:

… it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions …

In principle it would seem so. According to Hiddush’s 2011 Religon and State Index, 83% of Israeli Jews believe in freedom of religion and conscience.

However, the Dec, 2011 Peace Index poll found that only 18% of Israelis (21% Jews, 8% Arabs) believed that Israeli was fully implementing the freedoms in the Declaration of Independence. Even more disturbing was the survey’s finding that only 62% of Israelis (63.5% Jews) even thought it should.

What does this mean? Continue reading

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Public Opinion Surveys | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Does Democracy Trump Halacha? Israelis are Ambivalent

According to a survey eleased last week by the Avi Chai foundation, Israelis are becoming more traditional and most Israelis believe that halacha should sometimes win when halacha and democracy come in conflict.

The survey was sponsored by both the Avi Chai Foundation and the Israel Democracy Institute. It is the third of a series of surveys conducted in 1991, 1999, and most recently 2009.

Overall Israelis are becoming more traditional. In the last 10 years the percentage of the adult population over 20 identifying as Haredi has increased from 5% to 7%. The percentage identifying as secular has declined from 52% to 46%.

However, when religion is measured by level of observance rather than self-identification, a different picture emerges.. Despite the shifting balance from secular to haredi, there is no increase in meticulous observance. It has held steady at 14% throughout the last 18 years. The biggest change is in the moderately observant: the number who observe at least some traditions has increased from 62% to 70%.

Democracy vs. Halacha, Today

Feelings towards democracy are somewhat ambivalent. 73% believe that democracy and halacha are consistent, but should there be a conflict, the majority ( 56% ) believe that halacha should trump democracy at least some of the time:

  • 44% think that democracy should always take precedence over halacha.
  • 36% believe that which wins must be taken on a case by case basis.
  • 20% believe that halacha always trumps democracy.

The number of people who belive that public life should be conducted according to Jewish tradition is also on the rise. Between 1999 and 2009 this number has grown from less than half (49%) to almost two-thirds (61%).

One looming question is “what sort of halacha trumps democracy?” Are we talking about an extremist halachic process that concludes it is forbidden to hear or see women on the public stage? Or are we talking about a halacha that privileges human dignity, freedom, compassion, and ben adam l’havero?

Although two thirds of Israelis still oppose state-mandated closure of movie-theatres and cafes on Shabbat, this number is on the decline. In 1999 three-fourths of Israelis (74%) felt that sporting events, cafes and movie theatres should stay open. 69% believed that there should be public transportation on Shabbat. 54% believed there should be civil marriage.

In 2009, the number expecting movie theatres and cafes should stay open had dropped to two thirds and all other categories also showed decreases:

  • 68% think movie theatres and cafes should stay open
  • 64% think sporting events should stay open on Shabbat
  • 59% think public transportation should be available on Shabbat
  • 58% think shopping malls should stay open
  • 48% think there should be civil marriage

This fall and winter there has been a vocal public outcry against the exclusion of women. One would presume that the halacha that Israelis want to guide public life Unfortunately, the Avi Chai study did not ask questions about the exclusion of women from the public domain.

Democracy vs. Halacha, Projections for General Population

This ambivalence about democracy is particularly notable when we look at the sector that self-identifies as Haredi and/or describes itself as meticulous in observance. 85% of Haredim believe that democracy always comes second to halacha and 94% believe it takes prescendence at least some of the time. A scant 6% believe democracy should always win out over halacha.

Unless something can be done to change haredi attitudes, democracy is likely to come under increasing threat in the coming years. If current birth rate trends continue, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics estimates that Haredim will be 12% of the population by 2019 and 40% in 2059. By 2059, those who will believe that Halacha should alawys take precedence over democracy will more than double, going from 20% to 43% of Israelis.

Lemai nafka mina? What do we take from this?

This commitment to halacha and tradition even at the expense of democracy has two important implications for the future of democracy and pluralism in Israel. First, when more than half of the population believes that Jewish tradition has a place in public spaces, any successful pro-democracy and pro-pluralism campaign has to make the halachic case for democracy and pluralism.

Second, we can no longer afford to treat haredim as a people or state apart from the rest of Israel. It takes a long time to change an entire communities attitudes. 2059 may seem like a long way off, but in reality it is simply one generation of social leaders away. The beliefs of those social leaders will be shaped in the next ten to twenty years as they grow up.

It is absolutely vital that the educational policy of today’s state promote pluralism and democracy within the haredi community. Clearly this will not be easy. Every decent parent, Haredi or not, will rightly fight to ensure that thir children share their values. Few parents will sacrifice the welfare of their children to the state.

The logical consequence of this is that we can’t simply pass laws or change public policy. We must wage a war of emotions and we must find ways to do it that will be heard inside the Haredi community. We must make the case that love of Israel as a people (if not a nation) and love of Torah require pluralism and democracy.

Full Report from 2009 Survey: “A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observances, and Values, 2009”

Categories: Building a Just Israel | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Modern Orthodox Religious Zionists Seek a Public Voice

On Wednesday, February 1, 2012 in Natanya non-hardal religious Zionist leaders will meet to inaugurate Beit Hillel, a new organization dedicated to voicing the opinions of the non-Hardal religious Zionist on key issues facing Israel.

The new group was first announced last week in an article in Srugim.

The group was formed in response to increasing concern that extremist ultra-orthodox rabbis and settler leaders were becoming the public voice of national religious Judaism. A large number of national religious did not agree with their views on women, the IDF, and the state. According to one of the founders, Rabbi Chaim Navon, leader of the Shimshoni congregation in Modi’in, “To our great sorrow, religious Zionism is split, but only one faction’s voice was being heard. We are the voice of the other part, that hasn’t been sufficiently heard.”

Beit Hillel will give voice to religious Zionists who believe in “women’s empowerment, oppose discrimination and racism, support democracy, see themselves as an integral part of Israeli society and are loyal to the State of Israel and its institutions, including the IDF, the police, and the courts.”

Women will play a significant role in Beit Hillel. The founder, Oshra Koren, is a woman and women will be given an equal vote in the organizations decisions. Congregational rabbis will play a dominant role, reflecting a religious Zionism that accounts for the needs of families. Existing religious Zionist organizations representing the national religious tend to be dominated by yeshiva rabbis.

Ten rabbis joined with Oshra Koren to start Beit Hillel.  Among the ten are Ohad Tehar-Lev, Amnon Bazek, Tzachi Hershkowitz, , Ronen Lubitz , Chaim Navon .   The group has been quickly adding members to this core group.  As of the end of January, the new group includes 110 rabbis, 30 women Torah scholars, and rabbinic wives who have developed a reputation as community leaders.

Many of the rabbis are also involved in Tzohar. However, Tzohar has decided to stay politically neutral. The rabbis have joined this new group because they want an opportunity to take an active role in the future of the state.

Malka Bina, founder of Matan; Rabbi Yuval Cherlow of the Petach Tivka Hesder Yeshiva, and Daniel Hershkowitz, minister of Science and Technology will all address the founding conference on February 1. One of the first projects planned for the new organization is a Beit Midrash that will develop responsa to address the halachic issues raised by women’s public voice and face.

For more information on the conference see the Beit Hillel Website:


Categories: Building a Just Israel, Signs of Progress | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Many Causes, One Goal

This last 12 months has seen several waves of social protest:

Although these causes may seem diverse, each of these demonstrations is fundamentally motivated by the same need: the need for an ethnically and religiously open society in Israel.

Much of the economic pain in Israeli society is caused by economic arrangements that have allowed certain religious subgroups to create a culture that makes it embarrassing for men to work and further raises children without the basic education needed to hold professional jobs, should they chose to work. Though individuals can hardly be blamed for the culture in which they were raised, their inability to work turns them into a drain on the tax base rather than part of the process to build that tax base up.

This same status quo rarely questions a group’s right to create separatist enclaves. In the name of “peace”, Haredi children don’t have to learn the national core curriculum and they can easily opt out of army service. In the name of “integration”, we create separate Haredi army units where men work with and are commanded by other Haredi men. They rarely need to see a woman, and rarely encounter even secular males in the military.

We should hardly be surprised then when rabbis of these communities refuse to speak up against the kind of religiously motivated violence and shaming we’ve seen in Beit Shemesh or on various bus routes. Nor should we be surprised to discover that a rabbi was one of the motivating forces behind the group of Kiriat Malachi residents that signed a pact refusing to sell or lease to Ethiopians.

There are only two ways to create tolerance: exposure and equal privilege. Demonizing a person you’ve never met is easy. Demonizing someone who has cried tears with you and sipped coffee with you is much, much harder. But without equal privilege exposure leads to paternalism. We must level the playing field so that all ethnic groups and philosophical streams can practice Judaism and live out Jewish values as they understand them. We must all work towards changing and even replacing institutions that make one group of Jews out to be more valuable or more Jewish than another.

It is absolutely essential organizers in each movement begin to find each other and recognize the common goal. Without building connections to one another, we risk fracturing social energy into separate advocacy groups each seeing the other as the enemy. We make ourselves easy prey to those trying to block change. As Merav Michaeli writes in a recent HaAretz editorial:

“A new consciousness has arisen among us, and it will remain,” Ethiopian activist Gadi Barkan told columnist Nahum Barnea at a recent anti-racism protest in Jerusalem.

“The ground is burning beneath our feet… and it is burning, ever so quietly, beneath the feet of our leaders as well,” wrote author Almog Behar on Israeli social criticism website Haokets, in a look back at the six months that have passed since the summer protest.

And our leaders, in response, are meticulous in decimating the chance of solidarity among us. Backed up by nationalist forces on the one side and economic forces on the other, they are taking “divide and conquer” to the next level. With one hand they are sponsoring heavy-handed legislation against various minorities; and with the other, they are pitting one segment of the population against the other, so that we fight each other while they laugh all the way to the bank…

Categories: Building a Just Israel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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