In the spirit of Tisha B'Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the two Temples, the second of which, according to tradition, was caused by gratuitous hatred among the people, Gesher, an association which aims to increase understanding between the religious and non-religious, and the Jerusalem Unity Prize in memory of the three kidnapped yeshiva students, decided to examine the extent of cohesion of Jewish society in Israel, and the depth of the splits and gaps.
The data provided by The Zofnat Institute for organizational consulting, development and research depicts a bleak picture but also provides a reason for optimism.
Survey participants were asked how much they focused on the tensions between the different groups in the nation. Regarding the religious-secular conflict and the relationship between the rich and poor, the most common answer was "to a large extent", 46% and 45% respectively. However, tensions between Ashkenazi and Serphardic only bothered the public "slightly" - according to 44% of the respondents.
The analysis shows that tensions between the different religious groups concerns to a large extent the secular and traditionals (53%), the religious (40%), and the ultra-orthodox only to a small extent (50%).
Eighty percent of respondents agreed with the statement "We know how to maintain national unity only in cases of disasters and wars." There was consensus among all four groups on this issue, from the secular to the ultra-orthodox, with a clear majority of 65.5% to 91%.
The researchers asked: "What do you think the nation's state of unity will be like in five years compared to today?" 41.5% said it will be worse, 32% expect no change, 13% expect improvement, and 14% have no opinion.
On the optimistic side were the religious (43% of them answered "better"), the secular were pessimistic (59% said "worse"), and in the middle were the traditionalists and the ultra-orthodox (42% and 34.5% responded "no change").
Another part of the survey examined the degree of willingness among the public to communicate with the "other". Whereas there was relative tolerance towards the religious recorded in all groups, there are significant gaps between the ultra-orthodox and secular Jews, the most "discouraging" being family relationships (through marriage): From a rating of 1 (not at all willing) to 5 (very much willing), the average of the first group (willingness of haredim to marry secular) was only 1.7, and the second group was 2.
When the issue is personal friendship among these two groups, the average of those willing is 3.3 and 3 (respectively), being neighbors - 2.8 (in both groups), working together - 3.8 to 3.9, and living in the same locality - 3.1 and 3.3.
Regarding the question of relationships with the secular, there is no difference between the religious and traditionalists, and both sectors expressed a high degree of tolerance. In contrast, haredim are willing to develop connections with the other groups depending on their degree of religiosity.
But there are encouraging figures as well: Most people agree to a large extent with the statement: "Despite our differences, in Israel all Jews are bound together", and "It's important to me that students from all groups in the school system learn how to bring the religious and secular together", and "I respect Jews from all groups in the population, even if I do not accept their positions." This was also the most common answer to "I feel that I have a broad common denominator with all of Israel's Jews from all groups in the population." The consensus thus cuts across all sectors.
When asked "What is, in your opinion, the most appropriate way to handle the tension between the religious and the secular?" 40% chose education, 23% dialogue, 7% legislation and 4% actually choosing reducing to a minimum the points of contact among the groups. 14% would handle the matter through other methods, and 11% have no answer.
Ilan Gal-Dor, head of Gesher, said: "The survey results indicate that the groundwork has been laid and there is a willingness among the different sectors to talk to each other. However, there is much work ahead of us. We attach great importance to dialogue, acquaintance and understanding between the various groups of the nation, for a better common future - especially when we are in the midst of Tisha B'Av."
The Gesher and the Jerusalem Unity Prize poll was conducted by Zofnat with a panel of respondents via Internet and telephone interviews, and included 511 participants, a representative sample of the adult Jewish population in Israel. The maximum sampling error is 4.4%.