Despite media reports about an exodus of Israelis to Berlin, New York, Melbourne and parts elsewhere, the Israeli Democracy Index for 2015 indicates that Israelis – both Jews and Arabs – are less likely to emigrate than is generally believed.
This year’s index was presented to President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday by Israeli Democracy Institute President Yohanan Plesner who said that 67 percent of Israelis believe that tensions, discrimination and intolerance between Jews and Arabs are responsible for increasing the divide. Plesner emphasized that this was the finding of a survey taken before the current wave of terrorist attacks.
Notwithstanding tensions and intolerance, 78% of respondents don’t care whether a physician is Jewish or Arab, but 36.1% of Jews do not want to have Arab neighbors. They are even more indisposed to having foreign workers as neighbors, with 48.5% of Jews declining to live next door to them.
Arab respondents have a different set of no-nos. Some 42.6% of Arab respondents do not want to live alongside ultra-Orthodox Jews, and 40.4% don’t want to have homosexual neighbors. Only 11.4% of Israeli Arabs said it wouldn’t bother them living next door to Jews.
Plesner expressed confidence that in the long term, democracy will be the mainstay of security, and voiced appreciation for Rivlin’s championing of equal rights, calling him “a beacon of democracy.”
Rivlin regularly talks about a Jewish and democratic state, but the survey indicates that Israeli Jews do not necessarily agree that the two go hand in hand. Only 27% of Jewish respondents follow Rivlin’s line of thinking, while 37% believe that Israel should be a Jewish state and 35% believe that Israel should be a democratic state.
The representative national sample surveyed 1,019 adults aged 18 and over. The maximum sampling error for a sample of this size is ± 3.2 percentage points.
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The Israeli Democracy Index has been published annually since 2003.
Political scientist Prof. Tamar Hermann, who specializes in public opinion surveys, and who for the past five years has been the guiding light of the Israeli Democracy Index, said that overall, the picture is not promising, but it’s not entirely black either.
There is a school of thought that everyone wants to leave, she said, “but it’s simply not true.” Israelis want to travel and see the world, said Hermann, but they don’t want to live anywhere other than Israel. In this respect there is agreement between Jews and Arabs. Some 84.3% of Jews and 83.4% of Arabs would not emigrate if they had the opportunity to obtain the citizenship of another country.
Researchers discovered a continuing erosion of public confidence in state and government institutions.
“There is a feeling of moral panic,” said Hermann, even though the findings are not as bad as the media infer when professionals go out to do the surveys.
The majority of the public believes that there is corruption within the government.
Asked to what extent they think the government is corrupt on a 1 to 5 score, with 1 being very corrupt and 5 not at all corrupt, respondents gave replies that resulted in an average of 2.4. Similarly, 54.4% of the total sample said that members of Knesset are not working hard, and not performing as well as they should.
There is a growing disconnect between the public and the administration, with 77.7% convinced that they are unable to influence government decisions and policy.
As a consequence, there is a profound lack of trust in key political institutions, with only 19.1% of the total sample expressing hard-core trust in political parties. The figures a somewhat more encouraging with regard to trust in the Knesset, at 35.4%, and in the government, at 36.2%.
The bright lights in the story belong to the IDF and the president of the state, each of which enjoy high levels of trust – but only among Jewish respondents.
Compared to other countries, trust in the president in Israel is very high, said Hermann.
The Supreme Court (62.2%) and Israel’s health funds (70.6%) are also enjoy a relatively high degree of trust on the part of the Jewish public.
Among Arab respondents, the government and public bodies that enjoy the highest rate of trust are the health funds (82.2%), the National Insurance Institute (65.3%), and the Supreme Court (63%).
Both Jews and Arabs, comprising 59.3% of total respondents, believe that there is discrimination against Arabs, but breaking down responses to political differences produced more thought-provoking results. Forty- four percent of self-described right-wing respondents see Arabs as being discriminated against, while this opinion is shared by 62.6% of centrist and 80% of left-wing respondents.
While approximately half of the Jewish public believe that Arab localities should receive equal funding to that of Jewish localities, this sense of equality does not progress to the decision-making process. Only a small percentage of Jewish respondents are prepared to allow Arab involvement in crucial state decisions: 73.6% of Jewish respondents would require a Jewish majority for decisions regarding peace and national security, while 53.6% would require a Jewish majority for matters of governance, society and the economy. Moreover, 56.6% of Jews are opposed to including Arab parties or appointing Arabs as ministers in the government.
Rivlin was disturbed that a majority of Jews believe that Arab Israelis constitute a threat to national security, and said that if he were an Arab MK, he would be very upset by such a contention because it would imply that the MK is also a threat to national security.
Taking this a step further, 55.7% of Jewish respondents believe that Arab Israelis who identify as Palestinian nationals cannot be loyal citizens of Israel, while 42.3% think that Israeli-Arab citizens support the destruction of the state.
Discussion following the presentation centered on maintaining the public standing of the IDF, which Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer attributed to the fact that the IDF is free of politicization. If there weren’t a cooling off period for IDF brass before they enter into politics, the army itself would become political and would lose the public confidence that it has today, Kremnitzer contended.
Rivlin quipped that perhaps a cooling off period should apply to MKs running for president.
Even though he was speaking in jest, there was considerable speculation before they took office whether he or his predecessor, Shimon Peres, could hold their strong political opinions in check while occupying the apolitical role of president.
Kremnitzer sought a definition for loyalty. “What does it mean?” he asked. Many people think that whoever doesn’t serve in the army isn’t loyal, but there’s a difference between having an opinion and working toward making it operational, he said.
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