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!
  • 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.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • 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.