Advocates for Religious Pluralism in Israel Buoyed by Election Results

Yesh Atid's Surprising Popularity May Help Bring Changes

Cause for Celebration: Secular Israelis and Reform Jews proclaim ‘Jerusalem is not Tehran’ in a 2010 protest in Jerusalem.
Getty Images
Cause for Celebration: Secular Israelis and Reform Jews proclaim ‘Jerusalem is not Tehran’ in a 2010 protest in Jerusalem.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published February 03, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Proponents of religious pluralism in Israel are in a jubilant mood these days, saying that the surprise results of the January 22 elections may lead to some of the momentous changes they have been seeking.

When the Yesh Atid (“There Is a Future”) party emerged as the second-largest faction, many saw it as a long-overdue message from the electorate that Israel’s Orthodox-favoring religious status quo needs to change. In a political culture normally dominated by foreign policy, it is rare to see the triumph of a party so focused on domestic issues.

Yesh Atid’s central plank is drafting Haredim to the army. But party leader Yair Lapid has also committed himself to do “everything in my power” to bring about civil marriage and to enable Reform and Conservative Judaism to receive significant state budgets and perform conversions.

Wall Flower: A woman prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Getty Images
Wall Flower: A woman prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

His unexpected success, winning 19 Knesset seats and coming in just second to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu coalition, turned Israeli politics on its head. Usually, the key coalition force that the ruling party needs to arrive at a governing majority consists of Haredi politicians from Shas and United Torah Judaism with their sectarian agenda; this time it is the secular-led Yesh Atid with its liberalizing agenda. Whereas the religious parties have been able to use this power to demand authority for their Orthodox vision of Judaism, Lapid could now present himself as a strong counterweight to their positions.

“I definitely see an opportunity for change, as the balance on issues of religion has changed,”said Mickey Gitzin, a pro-pluralism activist who was deputy director of the election campaign for the left-wing Meretz party. “Yair Lapid has taken away the balancing position of Shas. This buys an opportunity.”

Lapid’s victory was not the only boost for pluralism advocates. Former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni has adopted a strong religious equality emphasis in recent months, and her new party won six seats. The 15-seat Labor Party’s domestic agenda, which includes pluralism, is more prominent than in the past, with the party paying less attention to the peace process. And Meretz, which wants a separation between religion and state, doubled its Knesset representation to six seats.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.