Ultra-orthodox Are Proud Israelis Who Don’t Feel Oppressed, Survey Shows

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Four young ultra-Orthodox men walk in Jerusalem, April 13, 2020.
Four young ultra-Orthodox men walk in Jerusalem, April 13, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Ninety three percent of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel say they have no confidence in the Supreme Court, while 76 percent say that Jewish citizens should have more rights than non-Jewish ones.

Those are among the highlights of the findings of a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute on the attitudes of the Haredi community to liberal values. About three quarters of respondents said they disapprove of friendship with an Arab person, slightly less than the number who feel that way about Israelis from the former Soviet Union who are not considered Jews according to Jewish law. In addition, 71 percent don’t believe the Knesset has the authority to decide on evacuating settlements as part of a peace process.

The data point to a complex picture, marked by strong opposition to state institutions and fundamental principles like equality for non-Jews and women, which is only expected to intensify. But that is coupled with pride and a strong sense of identification with the state. There were also large differences within the Haredi community, between those who want to integrate into the larger Israeli society and those who want to remain insulated. A partial explanation of this puzzling feature is a growing sense of power in the community. Seventy one percent perceive themselves as belonging to the stronger segments of Israeli society. This is not an oppressed minority or a community of temporary residents.

This survey is one of the most comprehensive ever conducted. It was carried out late last year by an institute specializing in the Haredi community and included 863 people. It was conducted by Prof. Yedidia Stern, Prof. Tamar Hermann and other researchers, and was presented this week at a conference dealing with education and values, held under the auspices of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Education Ministry.

The results, presented here for the first time, reveal the depth of opposition to the Supreme Court, the Knesset and the police (80 percent expressed lack of confidence in the latter two institutions). There was a high degree of consensus among different Haredi groups with regard to opposition to the Supreme Court, in contrast to more variance in relation to the two other institutions. “The hostile attitude towards the court is still an unshakeable rock,” says Hermann. She noted that the survey shows that the community seems to be opening up in certain regards, perhaps due to familiarity with Israeli reality, gained through shared workplaces. But this is not the case regarding attitudes toward the court.

In other findings, 51 percent of respondents believe that rabbis should be more involved in decision-making (along with or without politicians) in foreign and defense-related matters; 57 percent support this when it comes to economic and social issues and 91 percent think this should be the case in issues of state and religion. In the latter, 69 percent think only rabbis and not politicians should be involved in decision-making. Most ultra-Orthodox Jews believe the Knesset is not authorized to decide on issues relating to them. A whopping 94 percent don’t think the Knesset can prohibit gender segregation in public venues in events held for the Haredi community, while 91 percent don’t think the Knesset should decide on drafting yeshiva students and 71 percent don’t believe it has the authority to decide on evacuating settlements as part of a peace process.

Their distaste for proximity to Arabs and people from the former Soviet Union also extends to secular Jews. While 67 percent said they could accept a secular Jew as a close friend, 58 percent said that living next to a secular family would bother them. Women expressed more extreme views than men on all these issues. For instance, 90 percent of female respondents opposed friendship with Arabs, compared to 62.5 percent of the men (similar to attitudes towards those who hail from the former Soviet Union).

Another issue examined in the survey was the degree of support for letting women participate in decision-making on non-religious community matters, such as education or parks. Here the respondents were split with 49 percent opposed and 48 percent in favor. Women and more modern ultra-Orthodox men favored this more than conservative groups.

The survey indicated a strong sense of belonging to Israel, with 70.5 percent expressing pride in being Israeli (77 percent of the women and 64 percent of the men surveyed). This gender difference may be due to the increase in the number of Haredi women who have joined the workforce in recent years, including in mixed-gender workplaces. A total of 56 percent of respondents see themselves as part of the state and its successes and failures. This is halfway between the positions of Arabs and the general Jewish population, according to a 2019 survey.

An analysis of these results shows that the answers reflect the degree of Orthodoxy. Two thirds of modern Haredim said they see themselves as part of the state, in contrast to 47 percent of more conservative ones. There were differences between different streams as well: 60 percent of Sephardi Jews, 56 percent of Hasidic Jews and less than half of the “Lithuanian” more conservative Haredim, perceive themselves as part of the state. The numbers were much higher for people working in mixed workplaces, compared to those working in an ultra-Orthodox environment (59.5 and 48 percent, respectively). In addition, 46.5 percent of Haredim who work with secular people see Israel’s Independence Day as a holiday, compared to only 19.4 percent of people who only work with other ultra-Orthodox people. Daily interactions obviously strengthen the sense of identification with the general society.

Most ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t believe there is religious coercion in Israel. On the contrary, 81.5 percent believe there is anti-religious coercion. However, 79 percent said that Israel was the best place for a Haredi person to live, with 60 percent saying they could maintain their way of life here. This may point to a disparity between rhetoric and praxis: It’s customary for Haredi people to complain about “secular coercion,” but apparently things aren’t that bad.

Stern is the academic director of the program for human rights and Judaism at the Israel Democracy Institute, in whose framework the survey was done. The results, he says, show that “the Haredim, like other groups in society, have a strong sense of how Israel should conduct itself. The state is no longer the ‘other’, but a kind of home.” He describes a process of “split Israelification”: The Haredim are part of the whole group, certainly in terms of identification with and feeling they are a part of the state. On the other hand, this includes their limited confidence in state institutions and their wish to give rabbis the authority to decide on some issues, their opposition to the Knesset’s authority and their stiff opposition to liberal values. Will their future experiences shape their consciousness?

“The Haredi society is in the midst of a struggle over its path. It seems that a great part of this community has ‘crossed the Rubicon,’ on its way to fuller integration,” says Stern.

He estimates that the months of the pandemic, which apparently led to a significant increase in the use of the internet among the Haredim, may accelerate the trend towards Israelification. Possibly, but the experience of China and other places indicates that the internet and other technological innovations cannot on their own lead to the adoption of liberal values or to an undermining of the existing order.

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