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Friday, December 14, 2007

Israeli vs Religious

Last updated: December 14, 2007

November 2, 2007

The Palestinian Right of Return

Nizo double posted a post about this on his blog and the blog of Lurun. I've been commenting profusely on both. Here are the links:

Nizo: On the Palestinian Right of Return

Lirun: On the Palestinian Right of Return

December 7, 2007

A major ultra orthodox organization in the US, Agudath Israel of America, in a break with its previous practice has stated its position on the issue of Jerusalem in crystal clear terms: Jewish sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem cannot be surrendered because "It is the heart of Eretz Yisrael".

Agudath Israel of America has traditionally steered clear of matters involving Israeli sovereignty, on the grounds that a true Jewish homeland can be established only by the coming of the messiah. At its national convention last week, however, Agudath Israel passed a resolution stating that Israel should not surrender any part of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty and that America's government should not pressure it into doing so.


The resolution was adopted with no objections. Even more, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the head of Agudath Israel of America, said that before the resolution he had consulted leading rabbis of the Agudath Israel in Israel, which suggests a broad intercontinental consensus in the ultra orthodox world on the issue of Jerusalem. The Haaretz reports that, shortly before Annapolis, the Aguda contacted several high ranking members of the Bush administration in what appears to be a lobbying campaign to persuade the administration to stop pressing Israel into making concessions in Jerusalem.

The position of the ultra orthodox on the peace process and on the future of Israel in general has been a mystery for some people. The presumed anti Zionism of the ultra orthodox made some people wondering if the majority of the ultras care for the Jewish statehood in Israel at all. The resolution passed by the national convention of the Agudath Israel in America leaves little space for doubts and confusion. At least as far as Jerusalem is concerned the majority of the ultra orthodox leaders are rejecting any compromise.

Two conclusions follow logically from this. First, while the ultras may not necessarily object to some land for peace solution in the West Bank/Gaza, their stance on Jerusalem makes any peaceful solution of the conflict pretty much impossible. Without a compromise in Jerusalem the Palestinians will reject any deal. It's as hard to see the Palestinians giving up on Jerusalem as Israel accepting the right of return at some point in the future.

Second, the resolution should be seen against the background of the demographic revolution under way in Israel and the rest of the Jewish world. The demographic surge of the ultra orthodox sector both in Israel and the diaspora means that within decades the ultras will become, if not the outright majority, then a major factor and decision maker in the Jewish world. By 2012 1/3 of all Jewish first graders in Israel will study in ultra orthodox schools. This is up from the 1/4 of today. Other reports suggest that by the middle of the century the majority of Jews in Britain will belong to the ultra orthodox community. Similar trends are observed in the USA.

Given that in the ultra orthodox universe not a single leaf falls from a tree unless it's sanctioned by the rabbis, the Aguda resolution on Jerusalem should have some theological underpinnings. It so formulates a position and an attitude that are here to stay and, as the ultra orthodox sector continues its demographic expansion, they are bound to grow stronger and more entrenched.

All this means that the window of opportunity created by the Oslo process is closing fast (if it still exists) and what's still possible now will be soon possible no longer. If no breakthrough is quickly achieved and facts on the ground are forcefully established by partitioning Jerusalem and removing some of the settlements, then both sides should start bracing themselves for another generation of a prolonged and bitter conflict.

December 10, 2007

Israeli Arabs and Israel as a Jewish State

Pride & Honor

December 14, 2007

Israeli vs Religious

An article published on Ynet should be very relevant to the subject of this post and to the discussion on the Chamsa blog. According to Israel Democracy Institute quoted by Ynet the balance of forces between the secular and religious sectors in Israel is rapidly changing.

A new study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute shows that the secular sector in Israel is shrinking: Only 20% of Jewish Israeli citizens define themselves secular – the lowest number in 34 years.

. . .

Researcher Eliyahu Sapir told Ynet that the Israeli society has gone through dramatic changes in the past three decades (political reforms, rapid economic growth, increase in population, and four wars), and that sociologists' predictions that the society will be secularized – were proved false.

Probably one of the most important findings of the research is how religion influences political views:

Finally, some politics: In the religious group 71% are right-wing, compared with 49% of the traditional and 43% of secular. Only 8% of religious, 21% of traditional and 27% of secular reported they are left-wing.

The researchers were surprised by the fact that young Israelis appear to be more observant than their parents:

Another correlation was found between the respondents' age and the religious affiliation. 39% of the respondents ages 40 and under define themselves religious. Among 40-59 year olds, the number drops to 32%, and down to 20% among respondents' 60 years old and over.

. . .

Sapir said he was surprised to learn that young Israelis are more observant than older ones: "That means that when these youngsters age, the society will be even more traditional than it is today."


In reality there is no reason to be surprised. It's not that young Israelis have suddenly turned religious. It's rather that the findings of the study reflect the demographic nature of the shift. Religious people on average have more children than secular people and this is what we see here.

It's commonly assumed that young people tend to be more secular and leaning towards the left. This common assumption is in need of a serious rethink. In fact the findings of the Israeli study are echoed by the conclusions of similar studies in the US. Consider for example this piece from the Opinion Journal of the WSJ that explains the repeated failures of the campaigns targeting young voters mounted by the Democrats in recent years:

On the political left, raising the youth vote is one of the most common goals. This implicitly plays to the tired old axiom that a person under 30 who is not a liberal has no heart (whereas one who is still a liberal after 30 has no head). The trouble is, while most "get out the vote" campaigns targeting young people are proxies for the Democratic Party, these efforts haven't apparently done much to win elections for the Democrats. The explanation we often hear from the left is that the new young Democrats are more than counterbalanced by voters scared up by the Republicans on "cultural issues" like abortion, gun rights and gay marriage.

But the data on young Americans tell a different story. Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%. Given that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections. Over the past 30 years this gap has not been below 20%--explaining, to a large extent, the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns today.


This means that the effect produced by the demographics is such that young Israelis should be expected to be more religious and right wing than the older generation. These findings also allow us, to a certain degree, to get some idea about the future of Israel. In the coming decades Israel will be gradually getting more religious and right wing and, as far as the political views are concerned, the persistent failures to launch and relaunch the damn peace process have only deepened the trend.

Other studies suggest an increasing gap between the two groups of youth. In the secular sector there is a clear trend to favor the Israeli identity over the Jewish one while the religious sector remains deeply attached to the traditional Jewish identity:

Secular youngsters identify themselves as more Israeli than Jewish, according to research conducted by Dr. Hagit Hartaf of the University of Haifa.

For students attending the secular state education system, Jewish values play a secondary role in the building of their identity.

"In contrast to the concept of 'Jewish-Israeli identity,' which alludes to equality between identities, the new identity alludes to the centrality of Israeli components over Jewish ones," Hartaf said.

On the other hand, youth from the state religious school system are much more attached to their tradition and define themselves religiously. This has led to a polarization within society. "These two identities, which include the majority of Israeli youth, are removed from one another and are established separately, without any basis or bridge from which dialogue can begin" said Hartaf.

The study was based on extensive interviews with 55 adolescents and 21 teachers over a two-year span, monitoring more than 300 hours of educational activities.

A central aspect of Israeli youths' identity is the need for military defense, particularly in light of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, according to the study. A lesser emphasis is placed on Jewish rituals and the relationship with Diaspora communities, especially in the United States. While the secular students do study Jewish issues in the classroom, these discussions are often at a very basic level.


There is a certain drifting apart between the two sectors as a significant part of the secular sector seems to be developing a new sense of national identity, more national and cultural in the usual sense of the word.

On the other hand the religious sector, or to be more precise its ultra orthodox section, has recently experienced an accelerated modernization and integration into the mainstream society. Following Netanyahu's reforms, that led to massive cuts in social spending on the one hand and to the rapid economic growth and falling unemployment on the other, thousands of ultra orthodox were forced to join the economy. The reforms forced large chunks of the ultra orthodox sector out of its isolation smashing many of the barriers the ultra orthodox have been keeping between themselves and the rest of the society for decades.

The future of Israel will be very much about the interaction between the two sectors and attempts to negotiate the differences. The gap may start shrinking at some point as the ultra orthodox population is also getting more Israeli in a way, though it should not be expected to proceed too far with this process.

Anyway, even if we can expect the gap to start closing in the future, this is not something that should be taken for granted. It's something that should be actively sought after on both sides.

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