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Israel’s religiously divided society

Israel’s religiously divided society

 

JERUSALEM – A US survey published by the Pew Research Center revealed the discrepancies and fissures made by religions within the Israeli society. The survey was presented by Alan Cooperman, Research Director, at the Consulate General of France in Jerusalem on Thursday March 10, 2016.

The survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in Washington, made public on Tuesday March 8, 2016, is the first of its kind to tackle with accuracy religious gaps and their effects within the Israeli society. The study interviewed 5601 Israeli adults in their respective language – in Hebrew, Arabic or Russian – between October 2014 and May 2015, what is to say before the elections and before the current wave of violence.

The researcher Alan Cooperman and his colleague Nehal Sahgal of the Pew Research Center, a non political US NGO, presented their work on Thursday to the Consul General of France, Mr. Hervé Magro, and to some consular officials and highlighted the fact that the Israeli society is “increasingly polarized by religion”.

According to the survey conclusions, religious and social gaps are reflected in radically divergent positions on various political issues, and in wide apart attitudes within the society and towards the State of Israel.

Most of Israelis – whether Jews, Christians or Muslims – marry within their own groups or sub-groups, religious or lay, and live and grow in social spheres that are separated from other groups.

If the survey sheds light on how Judaism constitutes a source of unity among Israeli Jews who almost unanimously consider that Israel is a Jewish homeland, that a Jewish state and democracy are compatible, or that anti-Semitism is a growing phenomenon on world scale, it reveals as well deep gaps and divisions within the Jewish community. On the question for example of preference to give to Halakha (religious law) to dictate democratic principles or the use of public services during Shabbat, the gaps are striking.

The survey reveals, with supporting figures, the central importance of religion within the Israeli society, where 81 % of sampled people identify themselves as Jews, 14 % Muslims, 2 % Christians, 2 % Druze. Most of these people consider their religion “very important”.

While the bigger majority of Israeli Arabs consider that Israel cannot be both a democracy and a Jewish state, they don’t have a secular democratic view though. Figures reveal that 58 % of Muslims surveyed consider on their side that sharia should be the law for Muslims in Israel, and 55 % of Christians that Biblical principles could serve as framework to the law. Alan Cooperman underlined that these people were expressing “ideals, not political proposals”.

From a political point of view this time, the survey reveals declining belief among Arabs in possibility of two-state solution. If 74 % of Arabs considered this solution possible in 2013, they were not more than 50 % in 2015. The discouragement is less seen among Jews, coming down from 46 % to 43 %. Surveyed about the attitude of their political leaders in the peace process, Jews and Arabs have mutual doubts about the sincerity of the opposite party.

When asked about settlements and Israel’s security, stumbling blocks to the peace process, 42 % of interviewed Jews stated that the settlements contributed to the security of Israel, 30 % that they were detrimental. 79 % of Jews consider also that Israel should give preference to Jews.

On the other hand, 48 % of Jews were in favor of the slogan: “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel”. Only 46 % of Jews surveyed were against. These results raised strong reactions when the survey was made public two days earlier. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin urged Jewish citizens towards to engage in “soul-searching” considering these figures.

These results showed a very fragile social cohesion, and unyielding antagonisms between the different religious groups within the Israeli society. If they are not that astonished, it is nevertheless possible to imagine future with hope. At the conclusion of the meeting, the French Consul General, Mr. Magro stated “There is always half of the people who think that peace is possible”.

Myriam Ambroselli

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