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Rivlin: Situation we're in is problematic, even dangerous

Annual poll: Most Israelis distrust leadership, say democracy ‘in grave danger’

But 2019 Democracy Index also shows plurality believes country is in good shape (men more so than women); 60% say nation should not weigh views of Diaspora on important decisions

A woman votes at a polling station in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, on April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Illustrative: A woman votes at a polling station in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, on April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

With Israel heading into its third election in less than a year, and with two elections having failed to produce governments for the first time in the state’s history, a majority of Israelis believe the country’s democracy is in grave danger, according to an annual survey released on Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute.

Fifty-four percent of respondents agreed with that assessment in the IDI’s 2019 Israeli Democracy Index, compared to 45.5% last year. On the left the sentiment was particularly prevalent, at 84.5%. In the center 68% expressed such concerns, while on the right it was shared by 29%.

Israelis’ distrust in their leadership also grew in 2019, with 58% of the public believing their leaders are corrupt, a rise of 11% from 2018, according to the poll.

The survey was conducted in May, prior to the failure to build coalitions on two consecutive tries and prior to the announcement of charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three criminal cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses Likud party supporters during a campaign meeting in Petah Tikva on December 18, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

However, the survey also showed a plurality of Israelis believe the general state of affairs in the country is good or very good (50%) — albeit slightly less than in 2018, when that opinion was held by 53% of respondents. A third of respondents said the general situation was so-so, while around a fifth said it was bad.

Interestingly, men consistently ranked the country’s overall situation more positively than women, with 59% of Jewish men but only 42% of Jewish women expressing satisfaction. In the Arab public the divide was 51% to 45%.

Israelis’ trust remained low in the government (30% of Jews, 28% of Arabs), the Knesset (30% of Jews, 24% of Arabs) and political parties (14% of Jews, 20% of Arabs). However, the data in the Arab public actually represented an increase in trust in all three institutions over the previous two years.

Meanwhile the IDF remained the most trusted institution among Jews at 90%, followed by the office of the president (71%) and the Supreme Court (55%). Among Arabs the court was most trusted at 56%, followed — perhaps surprisingly — by the IDF (41%) and police (38%).

IDF soldiers during a military drill near the Gaza Strip, late July 2019. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

For the second year in a row, Israelis said society’s greatest tension was between the political right and left, and in greater numbers than the previous year (37.5% versus 32% in 2018). Meanwhile 27% said they believed the greatest tension was between Jews and Arabs (down from 30% in 2018).

The 2019 survey placed increased focus on Israelis’ attitudes toward the Jewish Diaspora. At a time when the rift between Jews in Israel and abroad is seen to be growing, 60% of Jewish Israelis said the government should not consider the views of Jews around the world when making important decisions, as opposed to 38% who believed it should. Meanwhile, 51% of Israeli Jews agreed that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora share a common destiny, while 46% disagreed.

Back in local affairs, 63.5% of Jews and 60% of Arabs said they believed the state ensures the security of its citizenry. On welfare the state scored far worse among Jews, with only 30% saying the state ensured citizens’ well-being, while 61.5% of Arabs said so.

Some 17 months since the controversial Jewish nation-state law was enacted, only 31% of respondents believed there was a good balance between Israel’s democratic nature and Jewish nature — 41% expressed a belief that the Jewish component was too dominant, 20% believed the democratic element was too strong, and 8% said they did not know.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (left) and Justice Minister Amir Ohana attend a conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv, on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Meanwhile, at a time when the justice system is under attack by government leaders including the prime minister and the justice minister, 50% of Israelis said they believed the system was in a good state. However, 50% of Jews and 42% of Arabs also said they did not believe all people were treated equally by the courts.

And 59% of Israelis said they believed the rulings of the Supreme Court were influenced by judges’ political views (78% on the right and 36.5% on the left).

A majority of Israelis also took a dim view of the state of the health and education system: 56% said they believed healthcare was in bad or very bad condition, and 54% said education was not good enough and needed to be strengthened.

President Reuven Rivlin responded to the report, saying it raised grave concerns.

“For a year now, a transition government has been in place in Israel. For a year now, the security, economic, social and diplomatic challenges that lie before us are not receiving the attention they would deserve from a stable government. One does not need to be an expert to understand that we are spiraling out of control,” Rivlin said.

“The situation we find ourselves in is problematic, even dangerous. It is dangerous because the trust that the public holds in the institutions of democracy — in elections, in political parties and in the Knesset – has been eroded. Even more troubling, the political stalemate, this debacle, is eroding our nation’s faith in our ability to work together and live together.”

The IDI survey was conducted in May 2019 among 1,041 interviewees (852 Jews and others, and 162 Arabs). It was the Democracy Index’s 17th year.

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