Hiddush's polls are repeatedly cited in the US report

Hiddush in the US International Religious Freedom Report

Hiddush appears prominently in the International Religious Freedom Report for Israel, West Bank, and Gaza which was released on June 3rd by the United States Department of State.

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Approximately half of the 101-page International Religious Freedom Report covers the state of Religious Freedom in Israel. The report, while difficult to navigate, provides an important resource for reviewing the year’s events in the area of religion, and is rich in facts and details. It covers many areas including religious demography, politics and religion, legal status of religious freedom and litigation held during the year, marriage and divorce, who is a Jew, education, non-Jewish communities and inter-Jewish disputes, the Nation-State Basic Law, the Kotel and Temple Mount conflicts, the Sabbath, Kashruth, Jewish/Arab/Palestinian clashes, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and much more.

Hiddush is repeatedly mentioned in relation to the polls that we conduct as well as our legal advocacy and cases (some of which are referred to without explicitly mentioning Hiddush’s role in launching them). A special important section is dedicated to the “Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom” in which we believe Hiddush plays an important part in Israel. The report quotes the Hiddush poll concerning freedom of choice in marriage and freedom of religion and conscience: "According to the Hiddush poll, 63 percent of the country’s adult Jewish population supported recognition by the state of freedom of choice in marriage, doing away with the rabbinate’s monopoly, and equally recognizing civil and non-Orthodox religious marriages. According to the same survey, 51 percent of the public stated that had they been allowed a choice, they would not have married in an Orthodox ceremony, compared with 35 percent who expressed the same sentiment in 2009, 39 percent in 2013, and 47 percent in 2016. Eighty-one percent supported freedom of religion and conscience while 59 percent supported separation of religion and state."

A few additional examples of Hiddush’s data and legal work mentioned in the report:

  • Hiddush’s annual Israel Religion and State Index: “In its annual Israel Religion and State Index poll of 800 adult Jews conducted in July and published in September, the NGO Hiddush reported that 65 percent of respondents, the same result as the 2020 poll, identified as either “secular” (48 percent) or “traditional-not-religious” (17 percent), with positions regarding public policy on religion and state close to the positions of secular Israelis…. … According to the annual religion and state poll conducted by religious freedom NGO Hiddush, 57 percent of Jewish citizens do not affiliate with any religious group, 19 percent are “Zionist Orthodox,” 11 percent “ultra-Orthodox,” 6 percent “Reform,” 5 percent “Conservative,” and 2 percent “National Orthodox.”
  • Additional important findings regarding public support from the annual Israel Religion and State Index poll which were quoted by the report: “81 percent supported freedom of religion and conscience, and 59 percent supported the separation of religion and state. Sixty-one percent supported equal status for the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform traditions. A large majority did not see the need for religious conversion approved by the Chief Rabbinate as a condition for the state to recognize the Judaism of new immigrants, with 35 percent considering conversion via the Chief Rabbinate necessary, compared with 34 percent in the previous year. Thirty-five percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they identify as such, and 35 percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they undergo either an Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform conversion.”
  • Hiddush’s petition regarding civil burial in Israel: “The Ministry of Religious Services listed 21 dedicated cemeteries in Israel and West Bank settlements for burial of persons the government defined as “lacking religion,” and 33 cemeteries for civil burial, but only three were available for use by the general public regardless of residence, and one had been full for several years. The state permitted other cemeteries located in agricultural localities to bury only “residents of the area.” This, according to Hiddush, left the majority of the country’s population deprived of the ability to exercise its right, as mandated by law, to be buried in accordance with secular or non-Orthodox religious view… According to Hiddush, an absolute majority of the Ministry of Religious Services licenses for civil burial are held by Jewish Orthodox NGOs and religious councils and some of these organizations conducted a “less religious burial” rather than a secular one, did not allow burial in a coffin, and stated on their websites that their services were only for non-Jews. On September 12, the Supreme Court rejected a 2019 petition by Hiddush that demanded civil burial in agricultural localities for individuals who were not local residents and who did not have another alternative. According to the government, the existing issues regarding civil burial could not justify burial outside of place of residence, as the law mandates. The court invited Hiddush to submit a new petition regarding a specific locality, rather than a principled petition.”
  • Hiddush’s response to the coercive measures by the Military Rabbinate: “NGOs Hiddush and Secular Forum, in a letter to the IDF Chief of Staff, protested Military Rabbinate orders published during the year that restricted the use of kitchenette facilities during Shabbat, or for preparing non-kosher foods, following complaints from soldiers. According to the NGOs, the Military Rabbinate was not authorized to order restrictions on food not served by the IDF, and its actions constituted “religious coercion.”

We note with appreciation the Report’s reference that “In meetings with Israeli government officials, the Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups” although we regretfully doubt that it has been given high priority or has proven effective.

It’s also important to note the methodological problem that the Report faces in distinguishing between issues of religious freedom and those that are primarily or solely anchored in national and ethnic disputes.

It’s also important to note the methodological problem that the Report faces in distinguishing between issues of religious freedom and those that are primarily or solely anchored in national and ethnic disputes. It acknowledges the difficulty in stating that “Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity”. Yet one wonders whether these different categories should not be further scrutinized, resulting in the referral of much of the information to other reports that the State Department publishes rather than artificially forcing them under the heading of “Religious Freedom”.

The main thing is that the International Religious Freedom Report is one of the most important publications in the field of the struggle for religious freedom, as it reviews what is happening all over the world and is published consistently every year. It expresses the importance of the principle of freedom of religion as part of the vision of the United States government and society, and the responsibility it feels in relation to this fundamental principle in the rest of the world. Therefore, we are honored to contribute our knowledge and experience to its preparation and are pleased to cooperate with representatives of the US administration in promoting freedom of religion and equality in Israel.

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