Over 50% of Israelis want leader who makes decisions alone

Sharp rise in Israelis saying Jews should have more rights than Arabs. President responds: I can't sleep at night

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, November 8, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, November 8, 2021.

Do Israelis want their country to become a dictatorship? A comprehensive annual study by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) found that the answer may be yes.

The Israel Democracy Index, which was presented on Thursday morning to President Isaac Herzog, found that 57% of Israelis want “a strong leader who will not consider the Knesset, the press or public opinion” when he or she makes decisions. That number has gone up steadily in the annual study, from 41% in 2014.

The study breakdown saw that 55% of Jewish Israelis and 61% of Arab citizens think that Israel needs a strong leader who is not swayed by the Knesset, the media or public opinion. 

Herzog told the heads of the IDI that the fall in Israeli citizens’ confidence in state institutions was deeply troubling. 

“There is no substitute for Israel’s democracy, and there is no substitute for its state institutions, and therefore the loss of confidence keeps me awake at night,” Herzog said. “No state can exist if its citizens do not have confidence in it and its institutions. Public confidence is the most important asset that any state system or institution has, and the prolonged decline in public confidence is a warning light for all of us.”

 Isaac Herzog is sworn in as president, alongside outgoing president Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Isaac Herzog is sworn in as president, alongside outgoing president Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Herzog received the study a day after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett confronted Likud MKs in the Knesset plenum in a stormy session of the parliament. 

“I believe that the growing tension and distrust between authorities – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary – have brought about a decline in the public’s confidence,” Herzog said. “[They are] seeing and hearing all these brawls and words of criticism – some to-the-point, some less so. And when confrontational replaces partnership and collaboration, the results are clear. But it bears clarifying that this is not a decree of fate. We can and must act otherwise.”

Three-quarters of Arab Israelis and 44% of Jewish citizens believe that democratic rule in Israel is in jeopardy. Among Jews, a majority on the Left believe that democracy in Israel is in serious danger (63%), compared with a minority in the Center and on the Right – 43% and 39%, respectively – who believe so.

In a statistic that could make Arab Israelis have even more doubt in Israeli democracy, 42% of Jews believe they should have more rights than non-Jewish citizens, a sharp increase from recent years. The figure was only 27% in 2018. Among those who self-identify as right-wing, 57% said Jews should have more rights, compared with 28.5% among centrists and only 5% of self-proclaimed leftists.

The study was conducted while opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu continued to be on trial for corruption charges. 

More than half the public, 52%, believe the political affiliation of elected officials influences their treatment at the hands of the legal system, including 63% of people on the Right, 39% of centrists and 29% of left-wingers. There were similar numbers on the question of whether judges treat ordinary citizens who appear before them equally.

Most of those on the Right (57%) think the Supreme Court has too much power. Some 76% of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and 70% of National-Religious Jews agreed, while the numbers were much lower among secular Israelis, centrists and left-wingers. Similar numbers said they believe the decisions of Supreme Court judges are affected by the justices’ political views.

Trust in Israel’s Supreme Court has shown a steady downturn over the last few years. This year, 41% said they had trust in the Supreme Court. Similarly, there has been a continuous decline in public trust in most other institutions – the Israel Police 33.5%, and the media 25% (down from 32% in October 2020). At the bottom of the list are the political parties with 10% and the Knesset with 21%. Trust in the government rose slightly to 27% from 25% in October 2020.  

Among Jewish Israelis, the IDF is once again the institution with the highest level of public trust, though it too has experienced a significant decline, from 90% in 2019 to 78% in October 2021, once again the lowest figure since 2008. The president of Israel still garners the second-highest level of trust compared with the other institutions and officials surveyed: 58%.

Forty-two percent of Israelis support and 43% oppose providing more funds to political parties that have women candidates for at least a third of their slate for the Knesset.  

IDI President Yohanan Plesner said the picture emerging from the study regarding the public’s opinion of Israel’s legal system is a cause for concern.

“The fact that we are seeing a decline in trust in the institutions of Israeli democracy is worrying,” Plesner said. “It would be wise of our leadership to take note of this reality.”

The study was prepared by the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research of the Israel Democracy Institute. In October, 1,004 men and women were interviewed in Hebrew and 184 in Arabic, constituting a representative national sample of the entire adult population of Israel age 18 and older. The maximum sampling error for the entire sample was 2.9%± at a confidence level of 95%.