Annual poll: Public’s faith in institutions, satisfaction in state of country dire

Trust in government climbs slightly in 2021, and somewhat significantly in the Arab public, with an Arab party in the government for first time in decades

A plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With Israel passing a national budget for the first time in two years, ending recurrent coalition collapses and repeated elections, trust in the government rose ever so slightly, but overall confidence in state institutions remains low, according to an annual survey released Thursday by the Israel Democracy Institute.

For Arab Israelis, who generally distrust state institutions more than Jewish Israelis do, a significant increase was seen in their faith in the government, political parties and the Knesset, as the coalition for the first time in decades now includes an Arab party.

The report was delivered in person to President Isaac Herzog by the Israel Democracy Institute president Yohanan Plesner, and Prof. Tamar Hermann, director of IDI’s Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research.

It was divided into four main topics: democratic values, the legal system, trust and general satisfaction.

The annual report, in its 19th edition, revealed “a complex picture regarding the level of public trust in key institutions and officials, confidence in the country’s civil service and the overall strength of Israeli democracy,” the IDI said in a statement.

In keeping with previous surveys, the Israel Defense Forces has the highest level of public trust, despite slipping from 90% in 2019 to 78% in 2021, the lowest level since 2008.

Illustrative: Israeli combat soldiers take part in an exercise in northern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

The president of Israel was next highest in the trust rankings with 58%, similar to the 56% recorded in 2020.

Though it’s in third place, only a minority trust the Supreme Court, whose positive rating dropped from 42% in 2020 to 41% for 2021.

The Israel Police was in fourth place with 33.5%, down from 41% in 2020; the media was at 25%, down from 32% the year before; and at the bottom of the list came the Knesset with 21% and political parties with 10%.

Bucking an overall downward trend among institutions, the government gained a few percentage points, rising to 27% compared to 25% in 2020.

Arab Israelis tend to trust state institutions and officials less than their Jewish counterparts. However, trust levels in the Arab community have risen since last year, with the Supreme Court at 49%, up from 40% in 2020. The president also gained trust, at 41% up from 31%, as did the IDF with 36% compared to 32% in the 2020 survey.

Political parties enjoyed more trust among Arab respondents, with 22% this year compared to 14% in 2020. The Knesset also gained points, up to 25% from 17.5% last year.

The government, which for the first time in decades now includes an Arab party, gained Arab Israelis’ trust, increasing from 14% in 2020 to 28% in the recent survey. However, the police slid from 26% to 22% and media from 36% to 32%.

MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Ra’am party, speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The survey polled respondents on six proposals relating to decentralizing power, alteration of the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, and representation in Knesset elections.

It found that 67% of Israelis are in favor of transferring more power from government ministries to local authorities. The survey found that 57% of Israelis trust their local leadership, a relatively high figure and one that has been stable over time, the IDI found.

Over 51% supported the idea of regional representation in Knesset elections.

Trust in local authorities was much higher among Jewish citizens (62%) than among Arabs (32%). However, while the percentage for Jews was similar to the 63% recorded in the previous year’s survey, among Arab Israelis there was a marked drop from 48% in the 2020 poll. The IDI suggested this was due to dissatisfaction with how local Arab authorities have handled the COVID-19 pandemic and “severe violence in localities with a large Arab population.”

Illustrative: An Arab Israeli woman casts her vote during elections for the Knesset on April 9, 2019, at a polling station in the northern town of Tayibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Regarding the legal system, the survey found that 56% believe the Supreme Court should have the power to overturn Knesset laws that contradict democratic principles. It showed there has been a slight rise on the issue over the past decade, as in 2010 support for that power was just 52.5%.

While a clear majority of 70% of secular Israelis was behind the idea, a minority of national religious (22%) and just 17% of ultra-Orthodox agreed. Overall, there was strong support among the Arab population (74%) but only a slim majority of 52% among Jews.

A majority of those who identify as left (56%) or center (41%) in their political views believe the Supreme Court currently has the right amount of power, while most on the right (57%) think it has too much control.

A similar picture emerged based on religious outlook, with a majority of secular Israelis holding the Supreme Court has the right amount of power while 76% of ultra-Orthodox and 70% of national religious see it as excessive.

Only a minority of Israelis, 48% on the left and 32% in the center, think that Supreme Court justices make decisions without being influenced by their personal political views, while 51% of those on the right do believe personal views have an effect.

Illustrative: Supreme court justices arrive for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While 80% on the left and 53% in the center did not think the court intervenes more than it should, on the right 69% said it does so too much.

The poll identified wariness on the part of many Israelis on the political right and in the ultra-Orthodox community, who believe judges are appointed based on political considerations.

“The selection of judges in Israel is perceived by large sections of the public as a process in which political considerations play a major role,” the IDI said.

It is a view held by 87% of ultra-Orthodox and 77% of national religious Jews, while less than half (46.5%) of secular Jews held the same opinion.

Respondents were also asked if judges are placed under political pressure — though not if they succumb to it — and across the board three-quarters said they believe pressure is present.

Further, a majority on the right and in the center see the legal system as biased in its handling of elected representatives with 52% agreeing that the political affiliation of elected officials influences how they are treated. It is a view most strongly supported on the right (63%), and by a minority of those in the center (39%) and on the left (29%).

There was a similar divide among political outlooks over the question of corruption in the legal system, with those on the left (73%) and in the center (52%) holding that system “is not all corrupt or only slightly corrupt” while 61% of those on the right believe it is “quite corrupt or very corrupt.”

The perception of possible bias carried over to the State Attorney’s Office, with 63% of those on the left believing that office acts “solely or mainly” out of professional considerations, a view shared by 47% of those in the center. However, on the right, 63% took the opposite view seeing the State Attorney’s Office as acting “mainly or solely on political considerations.”

Lastly, the IDI looked at general satisfaction, finding that less than a third of Israelis (33% of Jews, 25% of Arabs) think that Israel’s situation is “good” or “very good,” the lowest rating in a decade.

However, 63% said they are optimistic about its future (67% Jews and 42% Arabs). Among the Jewish population, 84% are proud to be Israeli, while there has been a sharp drop in the Arab population — just 27.5% compared to 50% in 2018.

Overall though, 76% of Jews and 66% of Arabs see Israel as a good place to live. Most Jews (70%) and Arabs (81%) would prefer to stay in the country even if promised nationality in another Western country.

Illustrative: Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on a hot summer day, on July 6, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The survey presented respondents with seven attributes on what makes a “true Israeli” and identified wide gaps between Jewish and Arab Israelis.

Serving in the IDF — a predominantly Jewish vocation — was seen by 83% of Jews as important but by only 16% of Arabs.

Being Jewish was backed by 73% of Jews but only 12% of Arabs, while accepting the definition of Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state” was supported by 85% of Jews and 33% of Arabs.

Asked which societal tensions were most severe, 46% of poll participants named those between Jews and Arabs, making it the most supported opinion. It marked a sharp increase from 2020 when just 28% backed the suggestion. However, it is a view held by more Arabs (64%) than Jews (42.5%).

The divide between right and left, which in recent years had held first place, moved down to second with 32%.

Nearly half of Jews (42%) believe Jewish citizens should have more rights than non-Jewish citizens, compared to just 27% who held that view in 2018. The figure was higher among those who identify as right-wing (57%), while only 28% of those in the center and 5% of those on the left agreed.

The public showed significant concern for the stability of democratic rule, with 44% of Jewish Israelis and 75% of Arab seeing it as being in jeopardy.

The IDI noted that Israel has also slid down the rankings in most international indicators on political rights, civil liberties, and freedom of the press when compared to average scores from 2010-2019.

The internet and telephone survey was conducted on June 15-24 and October 24-27, 2021, by Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion. It sampled 1,004 men and women in Hebrew and 184 in Arabic. The sample error was +-2.9%

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