Even before virus hit, more Israelis were worried about wealth gap than politics

Even before virus hit, more Israelis were worried about wealth gap than politics

Pew survey in Spring 2019 found that 67% were pessimistic about reducing the gap between rich and poor, while 56% were concerned over the political system

Israelis pack food packages for the needy ahead of Rosh Hashana, on September 25, 2019, in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis pack food packages for the needy ahead of Rosh Hashana, on September 25, 2019, in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A survey conducted last year before the coronavirus pandemic began found more Israelis were pessimistic about narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor than those who were chiefly worried about issues with the political system.

The Pew Research Center survey, released Thursday, sampled 38,426 respondents in 34 countries around the world between May 13 and October 2, 2019.

The timing dovetailed with a period of extreme political instability in Israel, which saw three consecutive elections and backers of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was eventually indicted on corruption charges, calling the system of checks and balances between the legislative and judicial branches into question.

Nonetheless, the survey found that Israelis were more concerned with income inequality than corruption or other issues of governance, like many others around the world. Even fewer Israelis were worried about finding high-paying jobs or the state of the education system.

“The coronavirus outbreak stopped much of the world in its tracks in early 2020 and continues to cast doubt on the well-being of households and communities around the globe,” the research center said in a statement. “But even before the pandemic, many people around the world felt pessimistic about income inequality, governance and job opportunities.”

Asked how they felt about the country’s future in reducing the gap between rich and poor, 67 percent of Israelis said they felt pessimistic, compared to 24% who were optimistic. Another 5% responded neither and 3% said they don’t know.

Questioned how they felt about how the political system works, 56% were pessimistic and 35% optimistic. Of the rest, 6% responded neither and 3% didn’t know.

Israeli protesters take part in a march against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 21, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Nearly half of respondents (49%) were optimistic about the availability of well-paying jobs compared to pessimists (43%), while 5% said neither and 4% didn’t know how they felt.

There was greater faith in the education system, with 56% optimistic and 39% pessimistic. Another 3% responded neither and 2% didn’t know.

The figures compared to global averages in the survey report of 65% who were pessimistic about closing the rich-poor divide and 28% optimistic; 54% pessimistic about their political systems with 33% optimistic; 53% pessimistic about finding good jobs and 42% optimistic; and 41% pessimistic about their country’s education system with 42% optimistic.

A man wearing a face mask walks past a homeless person near a closed shopping mall in Jerusalem, on March 23, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“In 25 of the 34 countries surveyed by the Center in 2019, income inequality was the most common area of pessimism among respondents,” the report said.

While Israel lined up with most of Europe, it was an outlier in the Middle East, where Tunisians and Lebanese both fretted more about the political system and Turks were mostly pessimistic about finding high paying jobs.

As the coronavirus outbreak hit Israel, the country was put into a lockdown in mid-March that all but brought the economy to a standstill. Unemployment rocketed from around 5% to 26% and by April over a million Israelis were unemployed.

Although the lockdown measures were mostly rolled back in recent months, unemployment is over 21%, according to the Employment Services, with nearly 880,000 people out of work.

In January, as Israelis headed towards a third election within two years, an Israel Democracy Institute survey found that 56% of Israelis had grave concerns about the future of the country’s democracy.

The survey was conducted by phone or face to face.

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