Israel among 'least religious' countries in world

by Gregory Tomlin, |
On June 15, 2014, thousands gather at the Western Wall to pray for the release of three Jewish teenagers who have been missing since the night of June 12. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that Hamas terrorists kidnapped the teens. Photo by Yonatan Sind

NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – A recent poll from WIN/Gallup International claims Israel has become one of the least religious nations on earth, though the findings seem contradicted by earlier internal polls about faith in the Jewish state.

"In Israel, 65 percent of those asked said they were either not religious or convinced atheists compared to just 30 percent who say that they are religious," a press release from Zurich-based polling agency said April 13.

"Meanwhile in the Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza) the population is considerably more religious with 75 percent saying they are religious compared to 18 percent who say that they are not religious."

In the new survey, which interviewed 64,000 people in 65 countries, some 63 percent globally were said to still be "religious," even though the term was used without reference to attendance at a mosque, church, synagogue or some other place of formal worship. The Middle East was described as the most religious region on the planet, with 86 percent of respondents calling themselves "religious."

In 2009, the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) conducted its own survey of religious practice among Jews, the third such survey in a thirty year period. The 2009 survey noted that religious practice had declined in the post-Cold War era as a result of an influx of Russian immigrants, but it had increased since. According to IDI, the rise was attributed to the assimilation of immigrants into Israeli religious communities and secular society.

In the 2009 IDI survey, only 46 percent of Jewish-Israelis described themselves as either "secular but not anti-religious" or as "anti-religious" (43 percent and 3 percent, respectively) — a 19 point difference with the WIN/Gallup poll. The IDI survey, however, did not consider the religious opinions of those in Israel who identified themselves as Christians or Muslims.

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, Christians made up only 2 percent of the population in the country in 2014. Seventy-five percent of Israelis were classified as Jewish, while 17 percent were Muslim.

In the WIN/Gallup survey, North America was among the most religious regions on the planet, with 82 percent of survey respondents indicating they practiced some form of religion. China was noted as the least religious country, with 61 percent claiming to be "convinced atheists" – double the amount of any other nation.