The Israeli paradox: a ‘democracy’ dominated by Jews
The article by Richard Silverstein is followed by the Israeli Democracy Index summary (less the tables).
This photo of settlers attacking Palestinians (with an Israeli soldier looking on) was published by Spiegel online with the caption “Israeli settlers hurl stones at Palestinians after rampaging through the West Bank village of Safa, near Hebron, in April 2009. A survey by the University of Haifa found that more than half of Jewish Israelis don’t want to live next to Arabs. In another study, 63 percent of respondents said they agreed with the statement “Arabs are a security risk and a demographic threat to the country,” while 40 percent felt that the government should encourage Israeli Arabs to emigrate.”
By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
October 07, 2013
The Israel Democracy Institute released its latest Democracy Index (summary [see below] and full findings), which I’ve covered here in the past. The findings, as I’ve reported before, confirm that by and large Israelis hold racist views and reject bedrock democratic principles, while believing that their country should be both Jewish and a democracy.
Just under 50% (48.9%) believe Israel should privilege Jewish citizens over non-Jews. Of those, younger Israelis showed an even higher preference for Jewish privilege (65%). 47% of Jews said that in terms of neighbors, their greatest aversion was to having an “Arab” neighbor. The survey, of course, perpetuates this racism by calling Israeli Palestinians by the common Jewish-used term, “Arab.” An even greater proportion, 56% expressed antipathy to having a foreign worker as a neighbor (among whom would be included African refugees). 42% of Palestinian respondents shared an aversion to a Jewish family as neighbors.
44% support policies encouraging Palestinian citizens to emigrate from Israel. This racist policy, known as population transfer, began in the 1970s as a hallmark of the Kahanist movement. But it became mainstream over the years (though the percentage of Israelis supporting it has gradually declined in recent years).
68% of Jews believe only they should be allowed to determine matters of peace and security, while 57% believe this should also hold true for economic matters. 31% (a plurality) believed that only Jews should be permitted to vote on any referendum on the final status of the Occupied Territories. 65% of Israeli Jews believe that Jews are “the chosen people.” Of those, the majority tend to believe non-Jews should have no role in determining major national policy choices. The older the respondent the less likely they were to believe Jews were chosen. It should go without saying that these views are flagrantly anti-democratic and conflict with the view that most Israeli Jews hold that Israel is and should be democratic.
75% believe Israel can be Jewish and democratic. Only 37% prefer Israel to be equally Jewish and democratic (this number has been falling over the past three years). 33% prefer it to be Jewish. 29% prefer it to be democratic (this number has been rising). Younger Israelis gave the highest preference to “Jewish,” while older Israelis gave the highest preference to “democratic.” A worrying development for Israel’s future.
While 75% of Israeli Jews believe Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, only 35% of Israeli Palestinians believe this.
50% of Israelis are “satisfied” with the functioning of Israeli democracy, while 46% are “dissatisfied.” Interestingly, the results have charted upward over recent years among those who are satisfied with Israeli democracy. It can’t be an accident that during those years Israel has been moving in an increasingly rightist (non-democratic) direction. So it would make sense that Israelis endorsing such views would be happy with the direction the country was taking, even if democracy was actually eroding. 68% of Israeli Palestinians were dissatisfied with Israeli democracy.
Only 35% of Israelis believed that decisions by the Knesset that violated due process, minority rights, and freedom of expression were not “democratic.” Meaning that the majority of Israelis believe that such rights could be violated in legislation with Israel still entitled to consider itself a democracy. 52% of Israelis believe that human rights NGOs cause “harm” to the State.
A 43% plurality of Israeli Jews assessed the overall situation of life in Israel as “so-so,” meaning not particularly good and not particularly bad. A 39% plurality of Israeli Palestinians rated the situation “bad.” 83% of Jews feel “proud” to be an Israeli while only 39% of Israeli Palestinians feel proud.
A 48% plurality disagreed with the statement that the Knesset and its members were “doing a good job.” 69% believe that politicians “look out more for themselves than the public.” A remarkably low 55% believe there is a marked difference among the political parties. 58% believe it doesn’t matter who you vote for because it won’t change the political situation.
63% of Israelis believe that soldiers should not have the right to refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories. But a much lower 50% believe soldiers do not have the right to refuse to evacuate Jewish settlements in the Territories. 53% believe that Israelis should not be permitted to criticize the State in “harsh” terms. Meaning that freedom of speech is not a deeply ingrained value for most Israelis.
Though 73% of respondents believe that the use of violence to further political goals is impermissible, that number has done a nose dive over the years from 87% only last year. Thus Israelis are gradually becoming more inured and accepting of such violent acts as the price tag phenomenon increases in intensity. Again, young people are the most accepting of the use of violence.
91% of Israeli Jews place great trust in the IDF, while only 35% of Israeli Palestinians (who largely do not serve) did. Nearly 50% of Israelis Palestinians place their greatest trust in the Supreme Court (which explains why Israeli rightists have lobbied strenuously to diminish the power of the Court). Among the lowest level of trust were the “political parties.”
A development I find particularly shocking because it is so at odds with polls here is that younger Israelis are more nationalist and right-wing than older Israelis. This may reflect the fact that the birth-rate among Orthodox Jews is far higher than among secular Jews. But it still indicates that the younger generation is even less amendable to political compromise than the older. A very dispiriting phenomenon, I’m afraid.
The Democracy Index also rated Israel’s performance in a number of international indices that ranked democratic values and culture by country (27 were included). Israel was 12th out of 27 countries in “perception of corruption.” It was 23rd in the level of military interference in politics (between Syria and China!). 20th in civil rights. 25th in “religious tensions.” 27th in ethnic tensions.
The Israeli Democracy Index, 2013
By Tamar Hermann, with Ella Heller, Nir Atmor, Yuval Lebel
How is Israel Doing?
� The Overall Situation – Jewish Israelis most frequently assess the country’s overall situation as “so-so” (43.1%), with 36.7% labeling the situation “good” and 18.4% considering it “bad.” By contrast, a plurality of Israel’s Arab citizens assess the situation as “bad” (39.1%), followed by “so-so” (30.8%), and “good” (27.6%).
� Belonging and Pride – 83.3% of Jewish Israelis are proud to be Israeli and 66.6% feel part of the state and its problems. Among Arabs, only a minority feel pride in being Israeli (39.8%) or a sense of belonging to the state (28.2%).
� Democratic Rights – 41.8% of Israelis feel that the right to live with dignity is upheld “too little” or “far too little” in Israel. The prevailing opinion is that freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly are upheld “to a suitable degree.”
� Socio-Economic Gaps – A majority of Israelis (63.5%) agree that it is important to narrow the socioeconomic gaps in Israeli society even if it means paying more taxes.
The Political System
� Public Confidence – The 2013 survey showed a slight decline in the level of trust in all state institutions and public servants. As in the past, among Jewish respondents, the Israel Defense Forces (whom 90.9% regard as trustworthy) and the President of Israel (78.7%) top the scale. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court (49.7%) and the media (48.1%) rank highest among Arab respondents.
� Motivation of Leaders – While the assessment of Knesset members’ performance has improved somewhat, a clear majority of Israelis (68.8%) still feel that politicians are more concerned with their own interests than those of the public.
� Impact of Voting Patterns – Voting patterns in the 2013 Knesset elections turned out to have little value in predicting opinion on the issues, underscoring the tenuous status of political parties as political “indicators.” Nonetheless, a majority of respondents (55.3%) perceive differences among the parties and believe their choice of party matters.
� Electoral Reform – A majority of Jewish respondents (67.8%) think it would be better to have a few large parties rather than many small ones. Arab respondents were split evenly on this question.
� Political Interest and Impact – A majority of Jewish respondents (71.8%) reported that they are interested in politics. By contrast, most Arab respondents (59.6%) reported that they are not interested in politics. In both groups, a majority (61%) feel that they have little or no ability to influence government decisions.
� Use of Political Violence – The majority of both Jewish (74.6%) and Arab (67.1%) citizens of Israel are opposed to the use of violence for political ends.
� Refusal of Orders – A majority of Jews in Israel (62.8%) feel that soldiers do not have the right to refuse to serve in the West Bank on the grounds that they oppose the occupation. Just over half (50.9%) think soldiers do not have the right to disobey an order to evacuate settlements either. A majority of Arabs support the right to refuse orders in both cases.
� Patriotism/Nationalism – The survey findings indicate that, in general, younger Israeli Jews are more patriotic and nationalist than their elders.
Jews and Others
� Rifts in Society – 68% of the overall sample define the rift between Jews and Arabs in Israeli society as strong (the balance of respondents see it as medium or weak). Additional rifts seen as strong include, in descending order: tensions between rich and poor, the religious-secular divide, differences between right and left, and friction between Sephardim (Mizrahim) and Ashkenazim.
� More Rights for Jews? – Jews are split over whether Jewish citizens of Israel should have more rights than non-Jewish citizens: 48.9% agree with this notion, while 47.3% disagree.
� Attitudes toward the “Other” – When it comes to having “others” as neighbors, Jews expressed greatest aversion to living next to foreign workers (56.9%), followed by an Arab family (47.6%). Arabs expressed greatest aversion to having a homosexual couple as neighbors (46.2%), followed by a Jewish family (41.9%).
� Arab Emigration – This year saw a decline in the share of Jews who support government policies that encourage Arabs to emigrate from Israel: 43.8% favor such policies, as opposed to 50.7% in 2010 and 53.6% in 2009.
� A Jewish Majority for Critical Decisions? – Most Jewish respondents feel that critical national decisions should be determined by a Jewish majority, both on matters of peace and security (66.7%) and on social/economic issues (56.9%). A majority of Arab Israelis disagree.
� A Peace Treaty Referendum? – On the question of who should have the ultimate authority to approve a peace treaty that includes withdrawal from the West Bank, the prevailing response among Jews (30.6%) was that only Jewish citizens should decide the issue by referendum. Among Arab respondents, the most frequent response (45.2%) was that all Israeli citizens should determine the outcome by referendum.
Jewish? Democratic? Jewish and Democratic?
� Israel’s Dual Identity – A sizeable majority of Jews (74.8%) believe that the State of Israel can be both Jewish and democratic. Only a third of Arab respondents share this view.
� Jewish or Democratic? – Roughly one third (32.3% ) of the Jewish respondents think the Jewish component of Israel’s definition as a Jewish and democratic state is more important, while 29.2% attach greater importance to the democratic component. The percentage of respondents who prefer the combined definition “Jewish and democratic” has declined steadily in recent years, reaching 37% this year.
� Halakha vs. Democracy? – The share of Jewish respondents who would choose democratic principles over Jewish religious law (halakha) in the event of conflict between the two (42.7%) clearly outstrips those who would favor Jewish law in such a situation (28.2%).
Jewish vs. Democratic – Which is more important to you?
32% Jewish, 29% Democratic, 37% Both are equally important, 2% Neither/ Don’t know
How Does Israel Compare with Other Countries?
� Overall Standing – This year’s annual international comparison did not reveal significant changes in Israel’s position vis à vis the world’s democracies. In most international indices, Israel falls at the midpoint of the scale, adjacent to the new democracies.
� Strengths and Weaknesses – Israel scored especially high this year in political participation, and received particularly low grades for civil liberties and religious and ethnic tensions.
Notes and links
Democracy index: sections on:
Insights and Major Findings
Chapter 1 How is Israel Doing?
Chapter 2 The Political System
Chapter 3 Source of Authority: Religion or State?
Chapter 4 Citizens, the State, Politics, and Society
Chapter 5 Israel 2013: An International Comparison
Appendix 1 Democracy Survey 2013: Distribution of Responses; Appendix 2 Distribution of 2013 Survey Results Compared
with Previous Years; Appendix 3 Sociodemographic Breakdown of Total Sample; Appendix 4 Distribution of Variables (by self-definition)