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>Israel Faxx
>PD Dec. 4, 1996, Vol. 4, No. 219

Israeli Poll: 47 Percent Expect Civil War

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

A public opinion survey published this week indicates nearly one-half of Israelis are concerned there will be a civil war in the country, pitting religious Jews against the non-religious. The organization which commissioned the survey plans to use the results to try to stimulate more dialogue in what has become an increasingly polarized society.

According to Jewish tradition, 10 Jews are required to form a synagogue. There is an old Jewish joke that any place with 20 Jews will have two synagogues -- so accustomed are Jews to religious and political disputes among themselves.

In Israel, with 3.5 million Jews, the old joke is carried to its extreme with countless political and religious divisions. Although all those differences fall within one large -- if tempestuous -- family, more and more Israelis are concerned the disputes could spill over into violence.

For example, it was a young religious Jew who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin one year ago, believing his policies violated Jewish teaching.

At the "Center for Jewish Identity and Culture" -- a largely leftist and non-religious organization -- Moti Arad was not surprised at the group's survey results, indicating 47 percent of Israelis are concerned there will be a religious vs. secular civil war. He says the Rabin assassination, and the rise of political parties representing religious Jews in the subsequent election, have created an air of confrontation where there was only quiet tension before.

"Religion and politics are very closely intertwined these days. And this is what makes it scary. People are very, very scared of what is ahead of us. We are all, right now, in a very deep crisis as far as our understanding of our tradition, of our scriptures, of our relation to this country."

Arad, who is not religious and teaches Jewish law to non-religious students, says secular Jews need to learn more about their traditions in order to relate to their more-religious neighbors, and he says some religious Jews need to be more tolerant of the non-religious.

Political parties representing religious Jews hold 25 seats in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 68-member ruling coalition. Not all religious Jews in Israel support those parties or share their views on religious or political issues. Still, the parties are trying to use their newfound power to ban activities they object to on religious grounds, such as doing business or even driving through religious neighborhoods on the Sabbath and holidays. Religious groups plan a protest march on such issues today in Tel Aviv, and secular groups are trying to organize a counter campaign.

Arad believes fears of a civil war are exaggerated, but he notes, according to the survey, they are held almost equally by religious and non-religious Jews in Israel.

Another survey published this week indicates a high degree of apathy among Israeli high school students regarding the Rabin assassination. The survey led officials to call for more education about democratic values and more dialogue among the various political, religious and socio-economic groups in Israel. A year ago, just after the Rabin assassination, there were similar calls, but little was done.

Moti Arad and others at the Center for Jewish Identity hope the rising concerns will do what the shock of the assassination did not -- create more dialogue among community leaders and ordinary Israelis to avoid the civil war which so many Israelis fear.

What's In A Name?

An American Indian comes back to the reservation to visit with his parents after spending some time in New York. He says to his father that he's fallen in love with a nice Jewish girl. His father is mortified and says "You're betraying your heritage and you'll break your mother's heart that you're not marrying a nice Indian girl. You know how Jews are, they'll feel the same way and you'll be ostracized in both camps."

The son reassures his father, "Don't worry. They must have already accepted the situation because they have already given their daughter an Indian name." "Really?" says the father. "What name?" The son answers, "Sitting Shiva."

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