Israel’s primary institutions of democracy enjoy little trust.

Highlights from the 2017 Israel Democracy Index

This week, the annual Israel Democracy Index was published by the Israel Democracy Institute, underlining that Israelis harbor deep distrust for their politicians, the media, and the Chief Rabbinate but are generally favorably inclined toward the courts and presidency.

Israeli ballot box, source: WikipediaIsraeli ballot box, source: Wikipedia

The Israel Democracy Index is an important document in a variety of aspects related to the state of democracy in Israel; and it sheds further light on the connection between the relationship between the values ​​of democracy and the religious identities of the various sectors of Jewish society in Israel. Hiddush's own activities and public opinion research focus on these matters. Following are some examples from the 2017 Democracy Index to which we attach importance and far-reaching implications for Israel's future and its connection to Diaspora Jewry. They include the ongoing struggle over Israel's basic identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and the growing pressure of ultra-Orthodox politicians to strengthen the "Jewish" component of Israel's identity, according to their specific interpretation, at the expense of the democratic component:

1. The Democracy Index asks: "Israel is defined as a Jewish and democratic state. Do you think there is or is not a proper balance between the Jewish component and the democratic component?" While 56% of the ultra-Orthodox reply that the democratic component is too strong in their opinion, and so too do 44% of the Zionist Orthodox, 61% of secular Jewish Israelis believe the Jewish component is too strong!

In response to the supplementary question: "What component would you like to be stronger in Israel?" 79% of the ultra-Orthodox (but only 43% of the Zionist Orthodox) responded that they would like the Jewish component to be stronger, while 54% of the secular would want the democratic component to be stronger.

It is interesting to see the answer to the alternative: "We want the two components to be equally strong." Only 18% of the ultra-Orthodox support this, but 48.5% of the Zionist Orthodox public, 55% of the traditional public and even 39% of the secular public selected this response!

2. The index posed a blunt question for the sake of clarifying public opinion: Whether we agree or disagree with the statement that "The religious Jews are gradually taking over the state." Among the Jewish public, 53% agree with this description, but the distribution of opinions reveals a clearer and more troubling picture. While 79% of the secular Jewish public agrees with this statement, Only 15% of the ultra-Orthodox and 16% of the Zionist Orthodox agree. In response to this question, we can also see the complexity of the traditional Jewish sector's attitudes: 33% of the traditional-religious respondents agree, as do 50% of the traditional non-religious.

3. We have dealt quite a bit with the pretentious claims made by a number of senior politicians in the Government Coalition and the religious establishment that the Supreme Court is disconnected from the public and that its steps should be curtailed, especially when it criticizes the activities of the government and the Knesset. Hiddush's own survey showed that the truth is the opposite, and the Democracy Index confirms and even adds to our findings:

A. In response to the statement that "Israeli politicians are disconnected from the real problems and needs of the public," 63% of the Jewish public agreed.

B. In response to the statement that "The Supreme Court should be given the authority to annul laws passed by Knesset members, who were elected to their positions by the citizens," 36% of the Jewish public agreed, and 58% disagreed. A breakdown of these figures according to the religious identities of the respondents reveals the more complete picture and the struggle over the future of democracy and the rule of law in connection to issues of religion and state: 73% of the ultra-Orthodox supported limiting the Supreme Court, as did 63% of the Zionist Orthodox public, but only 21% of the secular Jewish public agreed with this. On this issue, the traditional public is closer to the secular public than to the religious public.

C. In a question that examined the level of public trust in Israel's public institutions, the lack of trust in the political establishment was evident in comparison with the public's great trust in the Supreme Court. Only 15% of the Jewish public has confidence in the political parties, only 20% in the Rabbinate, only 27% in the Knesset, and only 30% in the Government. On the other hand, the degree of trust in the Supreme Court is three times greater than the trust in the rabbinate and stands at 57%! Moreover, the degree of trust in the government and the Knesset is in a dramatic decline. While the average annual level of trust of the Jewish public in the Government had previously been at 41.3%, in the 2017 index it fell to only 30%. Similarly, in contrast to the multi-year average of trust in the Knesset, which stands at 39.9%, in the 2017 index it fell to only 27.1%!

As for the Chief Rabbinate, the mistrust has reached an all-time high. 44.3% responded that they do not have any faith in the Rabbinate [compared to 32.3% in 2014 and 27.7% in 2013]. 30.4% responded that they had quite a bit of confidence [compared with 25.8% and 19.5%, respectively, in the past]. But only 6.1% responded that they had a great deal of trust [compared to 7.9% and 16.8% respectively in the past], and 14.2% responded that they had quite a lot of confidence [compared to 21.2% and 26.2% respectively in the past].

We recommend that you read more about the Index's findings, some more of which we have listed below:

  • The Israel Democracy Index found that the highest level of satisfaction among the Israeli public is among the Zionist Orthodox. The group among the Jewish public that is least satisfied with the state of affairs in Israel, the functioning of the government, and the like is composed of secular Jews and those who position themselves on the political left.
  • The Index found a difference of day and night between Jews and Arabs in their interpretation of the term "Jewish state." The highest percentage among Jews attributes national significance to this concept, and secondly religious significance (among the ultra-Orthodox and the Zionist Orthodox, the religious significance is primary), whereas most Arabs interpret the term as racist and exclusionary of non-Jews.
  • A large majority on the political right (72%) agreed with the statement: "Even though most of Israelis voted for the political right - the legal system, the leftist media and academia interfere with the political right’s rule." Among centrists, 22% agree with this, as do 11% of those on the political left.
  • The data show stability in the level of public trust in state institutions this year, compared to last year. Israel’s primary institutions of democracy enjoy little trust. 29% trust the government; the Knesset - 26%; political parties - 15%. But 57% trust the Supreme Court.
  • This year, too, the Index found that in the eyes of the public, the leadership of the state is considered more corrupt than it is pure. It turns out that the Israeli public's assessment of the corruption of the government is worse than the assessment of the international corruption index - where Israel is not high on the scale of the corrupt countries.
  • Both in the Jewish sample and in the Arab sample there was a large majority of those who felt that their ability to influence government policy was very low or negligible (76% and 88%), with only slight changes in all measurements over the past decade.
  • Both in the Jewish sample and in the Arab sample there was a large majority of those who felt that their ability to influence government policy was very low or negligible (76% and 88%), with only slight changes in all measurements over the past decade.
  • The Index found a large majority in the Jewish sample (74%) in the Arab sample (82%) who disagree with the statement that "Israeli citizens should be prohibited from publicly criticizing the state."
  • Most Jews (59%) now agree with the argument that human rights organizations cause harm to the state. Most Arabs (77%) disagree with this claim. A segmentation of the responses of the Jewish sample by self-identification on the left-right political-security spectrum shows that only the left has no majority that considers these organizations to be a threat. Left – 18%, Center – 59%, Right – 79%.
  • The secular Jewish demographic was the only one in the haredi-secular spectrum, with only a minority (32.5%) agreeing with the statement: "The refugees and illegal immigrants who came to Israel in recent years are damaging the character of Israeli society." All the other groups on this continuum, as well as the majority of Arab respondents agreed with this.
  • That the dispersal over the political-security spectrum, left and right, overlaps to a large extent with the dispersion over the haredi-secular spectrum, an overlap that deepens the deep rift between the two camps.
  • The substantive differences are not only between Arabs and Jews, and not only between right and left, on matters of politics and security. There is also a deep and ongoing disagreement within the Jewish public regarding the proper balance between the Jewish component and the democratic component of the state. Today, a majority in Israel believes that the Jewish component is too strong and that it harms the democratic component. The differences of opinion among the Jewish public on this issue largely correspond to the gaps between the categories of the haredi-secular spectrum. Secular Jews want to strengthen the democratic component, fear the religious takeover of the state and are concerned that in the future they will not be able to maintain their way of life due to the strengthening of groups whose lifestyle is different from theirs and who are intolerant of secularism. On the other hand, the Zionist Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox are very interested in strengthening the Jewish component of the character of the state. The Zionist Orthodox also do not share the fears of the secular majority, which is concerned about the threat to its way of life.
  • The Index found - especially among the right-wing – that many in this political camp believe that the legal, media, and academic systems identified by the public with the left are interfering with the right’s ability to rule. In other words, they maintain that these forces are uniting to erode the democratic election results that brought the right to power. Therefore, a majority on the right (mainly ultra-Orthodox and Zionist Orthodox) wish to remove from the courts the power of judicial review, while in the center and left they reject this idea completely.
  • The belief that the Left, academia, the media, and the courts are conspiring together is an excellent example of the proliferation of conspiracy theories in recent years. To this the Index report adds the widespread sense of helplessness among the citizens: as in the past, the Index found only a negligible minority in all the sectors who believe that they can influence government policy. This feeling also gnaws at the foundations of democracy, since it is a regime based on the sovereignty of the people, and if the people feel ineffectual, they will probably turn its back on the political arena.

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