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Photo: Oren Agmon
Do the identities have to contradict?
Photo: Oren Agmon
Photo: AP
More strictly Orthodox see themselves as Israeli
Photo: AP
Are you an Israeli first, or a Jew?
As Israel prepares for 59th anniversary, 50 percent say they feel more Jewish than Israeli, 45 percent say they're Israeli first, then Jewish. Expert says the two don't contradict each other, observes growing 'Israelization' of religious public

Almost six decades apparently have not been enough for most Israelis to decide which of the country's attributes they identify with more – Judaism or Israeli identity.

 

In a poll conducted on  the eve of Israel's 59th Independence Day, 50 percent of respondents said they were Jewish first, 45 percent said they were Israeli first and the remaining five percent said that both titles did not represent them.

 

Among secular Israelis, 72 percent said they were more Israeli compared to 23 percent who said they were more Jewish. Among respondents who view themselves as conservative, 64 percent said they were more Jewish and only 27 percent said more Israeli.

 

Eighty-two percent of religious respondents said they were more Jewish compared to eight percent who said they were more Israeli. The gap among the strictly-Orthodox population is the largest: 92 percent said they felt more Jewish compared to five percent that sees itself as more Israeli.

 

Gift to Israel 

In the second part of the poll, respondents were asked which gift they would most like to see Israel receive on its birthday. Thirty-eight percent said they wished for the return of the kidnapped soldiers and 30 percent wished for peace with the Palestinians.

 

Social matters also came into play but were far less significant than matters of state and security. Only 16 percent said they most wished for a significant improvement in poverty rates, and despite Olmert's self-deprecating remarks regarding his popularity, only 12 percent said the collapse of his government would be their gift of choice. One percent of those polled said their greatest wish for the state was to see its national soccer team win the World Cup.

 

Shoshi Becker, director of the Gesher organization, which aims at bridging gaps between secular and religious Jews, said she was not surprised by the strong religious identification evident in the poll's results. According to Becker, there is an erosion of values perceived as 'Israeli' and in their stead people have begun to identify more with Judaism. Becker said that this is not necessarily people latching on to Judaism as a religion, but as a nationality, a culture and spirituality, a community with historic and familial roots.

 

"There is however a large public that is removed and alienated from everything Jewish, that's why we must create a dialogue, even a profound one, regarding the questions and dilemmas here," said Becker. Creating an Israeli community that is connected to its Jewish roots, said Becker, allows for a strong Jewish democracy.

 

'Strong Jewish identity'  

Dr. Asher Cohen from the Bar Ilan University Department of Political Science said he believes Judaism is an important component for the secular public as well, even if only 23 percent identified with it more strongly.

 

"We have seen other studies, in Ynet as well, which indicate a strong Jewish identity amongst the secular public," said Cohen. Cohen believes that the poll operates on the assumption that there is a contradiction between the two identities when in actuality the two exist together. Most secular people, said Cohen, would define themselves as Jewish Israelis.

 

Cohen said the most interesting results were from the strictly Orthodox community, where eight percent said they feel more Israeli. Cohen credits the change to the "Israelization" process the religious
community has been going through over the course of the past several years.

 

The poll was conducted by the Mutagim polling firm and included 501 respondents who constitute a sampling of the Jewish Hebrew-speaking adult population in Israel.

 

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