Rivlin urges elected officials to restore public confidence

Most Israelis believe democracy in danger; trust in Supreme Court, Knesset dives

Israel Democracy Institute survey shows declining faith in public institutions amid COVID pandemic and continued lack of political stability

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israelis are losing trust in public institutions, with over half saying the country’s democracy is in danger, according to an annual Democracy Index poll released Monday.

The Israel Democracy Institute survey also recorded a decline in social solidarity amid the coronavirus pandemic and in the number of Israelis who believe the Jewish state is a good place to live.

The poll, whose findings were presented to President Reuven Rivlin, compared Israelis’ attitudes toward various institutions in October and June of last year. It mostly didn’t feature comparisons with previous years.

The Israel Defense Forces was the most trusted institution among Jewish Israelis, with 81 percent saying they have trust in the military. The IDI said the figure, down a percentage point from June, was the lowest in its annual poll since 2008.

Following the IDF was the presidency, which 56% of Jews in Israelis have trust in, down from 63% in June. The Supreme Court was trusted by 42% of Jewish Israelis, declining from 52% in June.

Next was the Israel Police, which recorded a drop in trust from 44% to 41% between October and June, and the media, which 32% of Jewish Israelis trust, slightly down from the one-third of respondents in June who said they trusted the press.

The bottom of the list included the government, which a quarter of Jews in October had trust in, compared to 29% in June, while the Knesset was trusted by 21.5% of Jewish citizens, a sharp drop from the 32% recorded in June.

Political parties were the least trusted, with only 14% of Jewish Israelis trusting them in October, versus 17% in June.

Knesset members shout at each other after a bill that might have staved off elections is defeated, December 21, 2020 (Knesset channel screenshot)

Among Arab Israelis, the most trusted institution was the Supreme Court, which 42% said in October they trust in, and the lowest was government at 14%. In June, those figures were 60% and 25%, respectively.

Overall, 57% of poll respondents said Israeli democracy is in grave danger, up from 53% in June. The survey didn’t give any details on why the respondents believe the democratic political system is endangered.

The poll also asked about the effect of the coronavirus on intercommunal relations and the ties between the public and authorities, with only 17% saying there was significant social solidarity in Israel, down from an all time high of 33% recorded in June in the shadow of the first coronavirus lockdown.

The release of the poll came as Israel geared up for general elections in March, the fourth since April 2019, and as the country is in the middle of a third national lockdown to curb spiraling coronavirus infections.

Upon receiving the poll results, Rivlin noted trust was lowest in the Knesset and political factions.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on February 16, 2020. (Flash90)

“The past two years, which have been like an endless election campaign, have eroded citizens’ trust drastically in state institutions of government and law,” he was quoted saying in a statement. “It seems that in the war of attrition waged by elected officials with the public, there are no winners. There is only burnout and despair.”

Rivlin slammed politicians’ combative campaign rhetoric as “most destructive” and lamented the factionalism in Israeli society.

“Restoring public confidence in the Knesset and parties, and in all state institutions, will have to be at the forefront of the minds of elected officials — not only after the Knesset elections, this coming March, but starting tomorrow morning,” he said.

Yohanan Plesner, the president of the IDI, said the poll results were “a clear warning sign” for decision-makers and that the government’s much-maligned handling of the pandemic was contributing to the erosion of trust.

“In times of security crises, we have become accustomed to national responses characterized by the strengthening of solidarity and mutual understanding. The COVID crisis, however, has succeeded in fracturing our national cohesion,” he said.

The IDI poll included 1,000 respondents interviewed in Hebrew and 180 in Arabic, with a margin of error of 2.9%.

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