67% of opposition voters, 18% of coalition backers are bleak

On eve of Rosh Hashanah, poll shows more Israelis feel pessimistic about coming year

IDI think tank finds 42% of respondents say this year will be ‘worse than year now ending,’ in levels of gloom last seen at height of COVID pandemic

File: An activist against the government's judicial overhaul waves a national flag during a demonstration in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv on August 17, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)
File: An activist against the government's judicial overhaul waves a national flag during a demonstration in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv on August 17, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown Friday, a majority of Israelis said they felt the coming year would be worse than the year ending now, according to the latest polling data, revealing degrees of pessimism last seen three years ago.

In the survey published Friday by the Israel Democracy Institute, part of the think tank’s August 2023 the Israeli Voice Index, 42 percent of respondents said they thought the coming Jewish year — 5784 in the Jewish calendar — will be “worse than the year now ending.” Another 22% said the coming year will be “similar to the year now ending,” and 23% said the new year will be “better.”

The rest — 13% — answered “don’t know” in the survey.

The last time a majority reported feeling pessimistic about the new year was on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in 2020, during the height of the COVID pandemic, according to IDI.

“The current level of pessimism for the year ahead (42%) has doubled since last year (21%), is the highest level found in any of our measurements to date, and is comparable to the 2020 pandemic-era level (41%),” the think tank said in the announcement.

The study also revealed “a continuation of the downward trend in the share of those who think that the coming year will be better than the last,” according to IDI, which noted that in 2021, 34% of survey respondents said they felt optimistic about the new year, a share that fell to 29% in 2022, and is now at its “lowest ever level” at 23%.

The study corroborated the findings with political affiliation and found a clear partisan divide. A full 67% of those who had voted for opposition parties in the 2022 national elections responded that they felt pessimistic about the new year, while only 18% of those who had voted for coalition parties felt the same.

In March, a global UN survey covering 2020-22 offered a strikingly different picture, ranking Israel the fourth happiest country in the world, its highest position since 2012.

People shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market in central Jerusalem on July 7, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

When analyzing the results in terms of the respondents’ religiosity, only 11% of secular Jewish Israelis felt the new year would be better and 61% said it would be worse. Among those who identified as national-religious, 52% said the new year would be better and 16% said it would be worse, while for those who identified as ultra-Orthodox, 36% said it would be better, 9% said it would be worse. Another 43% of ultra-Orthodox respondents said they feel the coming year will be similar to the year ending now, by far the highest response for that category.

A large gap was found between Jewish and Arab respondents. Only 7% of Arab respondents felt the new year would be better, and 62% expected things will be worse, while 26% of Jewish citizens felt optimistic for the new year, and 38% felt the opposite.

The poll, conducted in late August, questioned 621 men and women in Hebrew, and 150 in Arabic, and has a margin of error of +-3.55%.

Last month, the IDI published a monthly survey of public opinion that found that a majority of Israelis believe the country is in a “state of emergency,” with the view highly prevalent among those who voted for opposition parties.

The responses were mainly divided along political ideology lines, with less than one-third of those who voted for parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition believing Israel is in a state of emergency, the IDI said.

Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system and in support of the Supreme Court, in Jerusalem, September 11, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Netanyahu and his hardline government have been advancing a radical judicial overhaul since taking office over eight months ago that has sparked sustained mass demonstrations, large-scale refusals by army reservists to show up for volunteer duty, and dire warnings that the moves would undermine the country’s democracy, security and economy.

In July, the coalition passed the reasonableness law to curtail judicial oversight on government decisions despite the massive protests, vehement opposition from top judicial, security, economic and public figures, and repeated warnings from allies, chief among them the US.

This week, the Supreme Court heard petitions against the divisive legislation which eliminates the court’s ability to use the standard of reasonableness to gauge government and ministerial decisions, though no decision is expected for weeks or even months.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and all 14 other judges hear petitions against the ‘reasonableness law’ at the court in Jerusalem on September 12, 2023. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)

During the 13-hour discussion, which probed fundamental concepts on the relationship between the Knesset and the court, the lead attorney for the government challenged the continued relevance of the Declaration of Independence, which was written over seventy-five years ago.

Attorney Ilan Bombach faced a storm of criticism for his remarks.

Members of the coalition have refused to say if they will respect a High Court ruling striking down such legislation, which could mean an unprecedented tug-of-war between the government and judiciary.

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