It’s an irritating ditty with a simple refrain: “Don’t worry, be happy.” The musical message – what’s known in Hebrew as philosophia begrush or cheap philosophy – is light and catchy (and if you listen to the lyrics, totally unrealistic) but it has a certain charm. I found myself “da-da-daing” it the other day as I read the findings of the Israel Democracy Institute index stating that more than three-quarters of Israelis (Arabs and Jews) are optimistic about the country’s future, despite security, socioeconomic and other challenges.
You can download (or maybe that should be uplift) the findings from the IDI’s website (www.idi.org.il) but here are some of the principal findings:
• The assessment of Israel’s overall situation tends toward the positive: 38.1% characterize it as “good,” 40.5% as “so-so,” and the remainder (20.0%) as “bad.”
• The level of optimism regarding Israel’s future (75.6%) clearly exceeds the level of pessimism (21.8%).
• The level of solidarity of Jewish society in Israel (on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is “very strong solidarity”) received an average rating of 6.2 among Jewish respondents and 5.4 among Arab respondents; i.e., a middling score.
• The assessment of government performance shows a negative tilt: the majority (59%) feel that the government is not doing a good job of handling the country’s problems.
• Only about one in three respondents (37.6%) feel that there is a political party today that truly represents their views.
• The form of political participation seen as most effective is voting in Knesset elections (60.7%). This is followed (in descending order) by Internet protests, participation in demonstrations, membership in a civic organization, and party membership.
Only a small minority (12.7%) consider the use of force to be an effective means of influencing government policy.
• The majority of respondents feel that the protests of the summer of 2011 succeeded in raising media interest and public awareness regarding social/economic issues, but were less successful in changing government priorities, and failed to weaken the status of the wealthiest tier.
• Among both Jews and Arabs sampled, the majority are uncomfortable with the notion of a “strong leader” (62.6% and 53.9%, respectively).
• The most common preference among the Jewish public (41.9%) is for the dual definition of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state. A total of 34.3% ascribe greater importance to the Jewish component, while only 21.8% favor the democratic one.
• In categorizing the areas of friction in Israeli society, the tension between Jews and Arabs ranks as the most severe, followed (in descending order) by the tension between religious and secular, rich and poor, Right and Left (in terms of views on politics and security), and Mizrahim and Ashkenazim.
• The sense of feeling part of the state and its problems differs greatly between Jewish and Arab respondents (72.9% and 27.7%, respectively).
Those who took part in the protests of the summer of 2011 feel a stronger sense of belonging to the state than those who did not.
• A majority of the Jewish sample (89.1%) are proud to be Israeli.
Among the Arab respondents, the sense of pride is lower, representing a minority view (44.5%).
“It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically,” IDI professor Tamar Hermann, who oversees the project, told The Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman. “Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.”
The index, conducted by the IDI’s Guttman Center for Surveys, was taken from a representative national sample of 1,025 Israeli adults (834 Jews and 191 Arabs), and had a margin of error of only 3.1 percentage points.
Even the United Nations was forced to say something nice about Israel in its Human Development Index. In a report relating to 2011, Israel ranked a highly respectable 17th out of 187 countries. And you don’t need UN figures to see that in Israel’s case, the green seen on the neighbors’ side is that of Islamist flags, not luxuriant grass.
So, statistically, it’s difficult to figure out why we spend so much time complaining.
A Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) report published ahead of the Jewish New Year said Israel’s population is nearing the eight million mark (7,993,200, to be a bit more precise) with slightly more than 75% of its citizens identified as Jewish (a figure which probably accounts for much of the kvetching.) Perhaps complaining is good for us: Life expectancy, according to the CBS report, continues to increase, reaching 80 years for men and 83.6 years for women.
It could be the strong sense of national identity – the “we’re all in this together” feeling – that keeps us going. Ironically, the more missiles that fall, the greater the Iranian threat, the harsher the comments in the UN, the closer we feel – those of us who live here and see the thriving cultural and economic life.
There is a common experience shared by rich and poor; educated and uneducated; Left and Right, religious and secular – even Jew and Arab. If the missiles and threats emanating from countries in far worse condition than Israel do not differentiate between the various communities, why should we? Even our (relatively light) economic woes brought us together in last summer’s good-natured protests, and there is hardly an Israeli who doesn’t remember where they were on October 18, when Gilad Schalit returned home from five years of Hamas captivity (even if we did argue about the “price” of the prisoner release deal).
Unlike many developed countries, we actually yearn for immigrants to join the extended community (although blocking the economic migrants not motivated by the same sense of togetherness). In 2011, 16,892 immigrants arrived; 1.5% more than in 2010.
And babies are being born – their births another expression of faith in the future. According to the CBS figures, roughly 166,300 children were born in Israel in 2011 and the average number of children for Jewish women continued to rise, reaching 2.98 children per woman in 2011 from 2.97 the previous year.
We complain about politicians and the lack of leadership, but we don’t want the same type of “strong leader” who would threaten the democratic and free nature of our lives.
Too many Israelis have to regularly run to shelters, but we do not feel we’re stuck in a black hole. We see a way ahead. After all the dramatic ups and downs, as the country gears up for the year 5773 and Israel’s 65th anniversary, we know that we are living in good times – not the best, but better than before.
People might be more individualistic and competitive – in keeping with the “reality” culture that has swept the Western world – but we are still emotionally attached to each other.
The blue-and-white flag might not carry the same symbolism to all, but when it flew at the Paralympics, for example, it touched us in a special way, just as its absence from the Olympic Games before that pained us.
The milk occasionally tastes sour and the honey makes a sticky mess, but this is still a land of promise.
May we be blessed with a peaceful and prosperous New Year.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. firstname.lastname@example.org