A look at Judaism’s place in Israeli politics

Religion News Service | 9/18/2019 | Staff
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Seven decades after Israel’s founding, the debate over Judaism’s place in public life rages on.

Israeli political battle lines often fracture along how the country balances Jewish religion and liberal democracy. These tensions were a central issue in this week’s national election, and are sure to influence the composition of the country’s next government.

Country - Majority - Parties - Minority - Power

While the country’s Jewish majority is largely secular, parties representing the ultra-Orthodox minority have traditionally wielded considerable political power.

Acting as coalition kingmakers, religious parties hold a monopoly on many areas of daily life, from the closure of stores and public transport on the Sabbath to Jewish burial and marriage rites.

Israel - Community - Exemptions - Country - Draft

Israel has granted the ultra-Orthodox community sweeping exemptions from the country’s mandatory military draft. This has built resentment among the secular majority, who are required to serve.

After Israel held elections last April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospective governing coalition collapsed because a secular ally, Yisrael Beitenu party leader Avigdor Lieberman, insisted on legislation to force young ultra-Orthodox men to also serve in the military.

Theme - Lieberman - Party - Strength - Tuesday

Playing on this theme, Lieberman’s party boosted its strength in Tuesday’s election and is poised to be a central player in the next coalition government. He is insisting on a broad secular partnership with the country’s two largest parties.

“Israelis voted more on religion and state as a result of the political growth and appetite of the ultra-Orthodox parties,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank.

Israel - People - % - Population - Orthodox

Of Israel’s 9 million people, 75% are Jewish. Most of the population is secular or modern Orthodox, and 14% are ultra-Orthodox, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Another 20% of the population is made up by the country’s Muslim, Christian and Druze Arabs.

As coalition negotiations get set to begin, here’s a look at religion’s role in Israeli politics:


The two ultra-Orthodox parties —...
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