Forty-three percent of Israeli Jews consider their lives “so-so”; 64 percent of Israelis believe that it is important to narrow socioeconomic gaps even if it means paying more taxes.
Those are two of the findings of the 2013 Democracy Index published by the Israel Democracy Institute on Oct. 6.
The annual report, which takes the pulse of Israeli Jews and Arabs, was conducted between April 8 and May 2, 2013 and included 1,000 respondents. According to the IDI, the maximum sampling error is 3.2 percent.
Professor Tamar Hermann, who oversaw the study as head of the IDI, said, “The origins of the Israeli state were loaded with the socialist perception and actually the generation that contributed the most to the construction of the Israeli narrative and self-image were those in the second aliyah who came from Russia and were heavily influenced by the various socialist parties and movements there.”
Hermann said the idea that the state should be deeply involved with the well-being of the individual is something “ingrained in Israeli society.” She said that in contrast to the United States and some other European countries, Israel is more in line with places like Scandinavia and Finland. And she noted that many who move to Israel jump on the communal bandwagon rather than influence Israeli society.
“I think Americans who move here tend to change their views under the influence of overall Israeli society,” said Hermann. Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post, said that Israelis pay income tax of around 40 percent.
Other important findings: Israeli Jews continue to put their trust in the Israel Defense Force first (91 percent), whereas Israeli Arabs focus on the Supreme Court (50 percent) and the media (48 percent).
Hoffman said the IDF is always at the top of these types of studies because “there is no institution that unifies Israeli Jews more than the IDF.”
Hoffman said that Israeli Jews are becoming “increasingly cohesive” and that while he would not consider Israel to be racist, “one way in which they [Israelis] can show solidarity with their fellow Jews is by liking the institutions that are uniquely Israeli Jewish.”
Why the media? Neither Hermann nor Hoffman had an answer — and neither did David Pollock, Kaufman fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He said, however, “These are two completely different populations that live in the same city but have different identities. [These people] have been subject for generations to very acute conflict. I think it is remarkable that there is as much agreement as there is about anything between them.”
This year, the report found that 40 percent of Israeli-Arabs feel a sense of pride about living in Israel, down 5 percent from the previous year. Hermann says she thinks this is a response to decision by the government to push for legislation that increases the Jewish focus of the state, as opposed to the democratic. For example, she noted, there is discussion about removing Arabic from the list of national languages.
“One of the most striking findings is that half of Jewish respondents said Jewish citizens should have more citizen rights than non-Jewish people,” explained Hermann. “Non-Jews means Arabs — this is unheard of in a democratic state.”
But Hoffman and Pollock said they feel otherwise. Rather, Hoffman said he believes the government strives to be equal but that a parliamentary democracy is “inherently discriminatory” against minorities. Pollock said that given the situation on the ground, he thinks that 40 percent is “remarkably high.”
Within the Jewish public, 37 percent believe that the Jewish and democratic character of Israel are equally important, 32 percent assign greater priority to the Jewish element, and 29 percent give greater weight to the democratic nature. At the same time, 75 percent of the Jewish public believes that the state of Israel can simultaneously be both a Jewish state and a democratic state.
And the Jews are more likely to get their way, as Israelis remain engaged and involved with politics (72 percent); only 60 percent of Israeli Arabs are interested in politics.
How can Israeli Arabs expect to have a voice if they are not engaged?
“They don’t expect change,” said Hoffman, noting that Arab politicians fail to represent the people. He noted that while Israeli Jews — and with them Israeli politicians — have leaned toward a focus on domestic issues, Arab politicians remain focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This does not help the people.
Hoffman explained that there is talk in the government of raising the electoral threshold, making it more difficult for Arab parties (and other niche parties) to gain government seats. He said if that happens, the projected November 2017 Knesset elections could mean even less Israeli-Arab representation.
“They don’t see much hope for real change,” said Pollock.
“Israeli Arabs are getting higher in numbers, are more educated and know better how to demand their rights as citizens,” said Hermann. “There is a deep divide in Israel between Jews and Arabs. Unless it will be taken care of, this may cause us much trouble in the future.”
The IDI study, according to Hoffman, is considered nonsectarian and reputable. Hermann said the IDI invests in the study to help inform and then influence policy makers to act in accordance with the people.
“Unless we measure often, we have no idea what is changing on a grassroots level,” said Hermann.
Hermann said the study is privately funded via donations to the IDI, and that donors have no influence on the interview questions or methodology.
Maayan Jaffe is editor-in-chief of WJW’s sister publication, the Baltimore Jewish Times.