New Study Shows Israel’s Deep Division in Religious Identity

Religious identities in Israel fracture society according to new research from Pew.

For its small size, Israel holds great importance for adherents of three major world religions. For Jews, it is their “Promised Land”, and the only nation in the world where they are the majority by population. The country is regarded by Christians as the “Holy Land,” as it is the birthplace of Jesus and where he spent his life. When it comes to Muslims, their Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven from Jerusalem.

The Israeli Jews, for their parts, continue to remain united for the concept that Israel constitutes their homeland. Many perceive the country as a kind of refuge from the increasing instances of anti-semitism across the world. However, a new Pew Research Center survey has found contemporary Israeli society a fractured one. Divisions exist between not only the dominant Jews and the Arab minority, but also among Israeli Jewish subgroups.

Almost all Jews living in Israel identify themselves as one of four categories: Dati or religious, Haredi or ultra-orthodox, Hiloni or secular or Masorti or traditional. Even though they are all citizens of Israel, the secular and the religious Jew mostly inhabit separate social worlds. They have few common friends and intermarriage between groups are also rare. It is seen that an Israeli secular Jew feels more comfort with the thought of their child marrying a Christian compared to him or her marrying an ultra-orthodox Jew.

These divisions are acutely seen in the many contrasting positions taken by the Jewish population when it comes to public policy. These include marriage, religious conversion, gender segregation, divorce and public transportation. Both the Dati and Haredi Jews (orthodox) express the opinion that the Government of Israel must promote religious beliefs and values. The secular Jews, in contrast, strongly favor the separation of government policy and religion.

The largest crack in Israeli society is seen when it is observed that 48 percent of Israeli Jews say that Arabs should be expelled from Israel while 46 percent vehemently oppose this. Not only this, both Arabs and Israeli Jews disagree on whether the country can be simultaneously a democracy and a Jewish state. Approximately, 76 percent of the Jewish populace holds the belief that it is possible, while only a minority (about 27 percent) of Israeli Arabs hold a favorable opinion. In case of Arabs, it is seen that they are more religious compared to Jews, with 75 percent saying that religion is extremely important in their daily lives.

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