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Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Prefer a Jewish State to a Democratic One

Israel Democracy Institute’s Democracy Index finds under 10 percent of respondents trust the justice system, and 82 percent believe segregation from Arabs is necessary to preserve a Jewish identity.

When the coronavirus crisis began one year ago, it seemed as if the lethal illness might be the factor that would finally bring the ultra-Orthodox community into the mainstream. Members were flocking to the forbidden internet in search of information, and creating widespread distrust in community leaders, raising expectations that the Haredi population was about to join the rest of society.

But as time passed, it became clear that the crisis was only exacerbating the situation, with potentially explosive consequences. The ultra-Orthodox community opened their schools and held mass events, in violation of strict coronavirus rules, while police enforcement of the regulations was demonstratively lax. This led to anger in the rest of the population, who felt that the Haredi public was thumbing its nose at the state while being coddled, despite the fact that infection rates in Haredi communities were breaking all records. The ultra-Orthodox community went on the defensive, with numerous media outlets and community leaders stoking and often creating a sense of persecution, whereby the police and state were adopting an anti-Haredi stance.

A closer look at the data collected for the Israel Democracy Institute’s Democracy Index, made available to Haaretz, shows that tension between secular and Haredi communities, and between the latter and various state authorities, is intensely high. According to the study, 40 percent of ultra-Orthodox respondents said that the biggest tension in Israel is the one between secular and ultra-Orthodox citizens. According to the data, only around a fifth of religious and secular Jews thought the same, and only 12 percent of those defining themselves as ‘traditional.’

There is a prevailing suspicion of the media and the police among the Haredi public. The media are trusted by only four percent of Haredi respondents, while only 17 percent trust the police. The Supreme Court is also perceived as a threat, with only seven percent of Haredi respondents saying they have trust in the country’s highest court.

Persecuted, but satisfied — as long as the state is Jewish

Despite the sense of being persecuted, of all segments of society, the ultra-Orthodox expressed the greatest satisfaction with life in Israel. The scale slides down along with the respondents' identification with Jewish orthodoxy: 92 percent think Israel is a good place to live in, the same proportion as religious Jews. Eighty percent of traditional respondents and 65 percent of secular respondents said the same.

The state of the country is good or very good, 68 percent of Haredi respondents said, with 61 percent of non-Haredi religious Jews agreeing. The proportion among the ‘religious traditional’, ‘non-religious traditional’ and secular respondents was 48, 33 and 27 percent respectively.

The ultra-Orthodox may be happy to live in a Jewish state, but they are less happy living in a democratic one. When asked whether there is a good balance between the Jewish and democratic components, 72 percent of the Haredim said the democratic component was too strong, 15 percent said the balance was right, while 5 percent said the Jewish component was too strong.

Among religious Jews, 50 percent said the democratic component was too strong, as did 32 percent of religious traditional respondents, 20 percent of non-religious traditional respondents, and only 9 percent of secular respondents. The trend goes back the other way: 66 percent of secular Jews believe the Jewish component is too strong, compared to 26 percent among the non-religious traditional, 22 percent among the religious traditional, and 9 percent of Haredi respondents.

“Haredim have it good in Israel in its present situation” says Dr Gilad Malach from the Israel Democracy Institute. “They are the group with the highest rate of satisfaction with the state of the country and with their status in it.” Malach says that Haredi society does identify some threats to their current status. One is the conflict between Haredim and secular Jews, which is perceived by the former as particularly severe, as shown by the data. “Their anger is directed mainly at the media, the Supreme Court and the police, all of which are highly mistrusted,” says Malach.

A further threat, as they perceive it, is to maintaining their political influence, says Malach. “They believe that the campaign against corruption is fictitious, intended to depose their representatives and Netanyahu. In this context, the Supreme Court and the Attorney General, who is ultra-Orthodox, are not very trusted.” The data shows that 34 percent of ultra-Orthodox respondents believe the government to be corrupt, the lowest rate in the country along with the religious. Forty-three percent of religious traditional Jews believe this, as do 53 percent of the non-religious traditional. More than three-quarters of secular respondents think their government is corrupt.

Oppressed by the police, threatened by Arabs

An overwhelming majority of ultra-Orthodox respondents, 70 percent, think the police are exercising excessive policing against their communities, compared to 67 percent among religious Jews, 44 percent of the religious traditional religious, 31 percent of the non-religious traditional and only 20 percent of secular Jews.

According to Malach, the ultra-Orthodox also identify the Arab community, which they believe is politically defended by the Supreme Court, as a threat, both to their personal well-being and their Jewish identity. More than half of Haredim said they’d prefer to be treated by a Jewish doctor rather than by an Arab one, compared to 44 percent of religious Jews, 30 percent of the religious traditional, 27 percent of the non-religious traditional and 16 percent of secular Jews.

For 82 percent of ultra-Orthodox respondents, Jews and Arabs should live segregated life to preserve their identity. 62 percent of religious Jews, 45 percent of traditional Jews and 25 percent of secular Jews think the same. Almost all of them believe that fateful decisions on peace and security should be made by a Jewish majority, a belief that is shared by most of their co-religionists. Even among secular Jews, 62 percent think a Jewish majority should make strategic calls.

Only 37 percent of ultra-Orthodox respondents said they’d be willing to work under an Arab manager, compared to 49 percent among religious Jews, 68 percent of the traditional and 79 percent of secular respondents. Twelve percent of Haredi respondents said they’d be willing to work in an Arab town, compared to 29 percent among religious respondents, 31 percent among religious traditional Jews, 42 percent among the non-religious traditional and 54 percent among secular Jews.

For Malach, “the conclusion is clear: the Haredi population identifies very much with a Jewish Israel, but much less so with its democratic character.”

Aaron Rabinowitz