There is a surprising new poll out in Israel, where there has been significant controversy in recent weeks about religious soldiers who leave ceremonies where women sing. The walkouts have generated angry opinion pieces in the media and fury among top army brass, with 19 reserve major generals petitioning the Defense Ministry claiming that they damage “the fundamental values of Israeli society” and the army eventually ruling that soldiers must stay in their seats. But it seems that Israeli society is more evenly split on the issue than most of us assumed.
A poll conducted by the Panels Research Institute found that 49% of the Jewish public believes that religious soldiers should be excused from military ceremonies that include women performers. Backing for the army’s position, that they must attend, was lower at 40%.
What is particularly interesting about this poll is that it indicates that the ultimate fear of people who are concerned about the walkouts, namely that the walkouts will lead to a situation in the IDF where women are banned from singing at ceremonies, in not a real one. Only 4% of respondents wanted only men to perform at ceremonies, despite the fact that the Haredi and religious-Zionist samples, which one may expect to back such a position, each represent far more than 4% of the respondents.
This low result for the ban-women lobby is particularly unexpected given that some of the voices in the debate see women singing in clear black-and-white terms as a forbidden activity, and think they should boycott the army for its position. “Of late, processes have begun to coercively instruct soldiers to transgress the commandments of the Torah, such as hearing women sing,” says a new petition by a group of religious-Zionist youngsters. “We declare that as long as these efforts continue we will not be able to enlist in the army. The commandments of the Creator of the World are more important than the commandments of any man of flesh and blood.”