Poll: Israeli left-right rift at record high; 31% think violent civil strife likely

Israel Democracy Institute survey finds 63% want political camps to find common ground in fight over judicial shakeup

Israelis protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his his government that opponents say threatens democracy and freedoms, in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 21, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his his government that opponents say threatens democracy and freedoms, in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 21, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A poll published Friday showed that the perceived gap between the political left and right in Israel is the largest recorded since the monthly survey was started in 2012. Some 31 percent of respondents said they believed civil strife was likely.

At the same time, the study found that a substantial majority of Israelis want the government to reach a compromise on its controversial judicial overhaul plans.

The Israeli Voice Index, produced monthly by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) think tank, found that 63 percent of respondents were “in favor of dialogue between the different political camps regarding the proposed legislative changes in an attempt to reach compromise.”

Asked whether the plans presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin were good or bad, 43% of respondents described them as bad, while 31% believed Levin’s plans were good. The remaining quarter said they “don’t know.”

Among Arabs, the percentage that said they “don’t know” was significantly higher than Jewish respondents, which IDI assessed may be a result of a lack of political engagement in Arab society.

The proposals presented by Levin in December would sharply restrict the High Court’s capacity to annul laws and government decisions with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

The IDI survey recorded the highest schism between the political left and right since it began measuring data in 2012.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Justice Minister Yariv Levin (3rd-R) and other ministers sit in the Knesset after the swearing-in ceremony of the new government, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Today, 42.5% of those surveyed indicated that the strongest tension in Israeli society is between left and right. The figure is a sharp increase from October 2022 (34%), and higher than the multi-year average of 27.7% over the last decade.

The IDI asked respondents if they believed civil strife, including violence, was likely, to which some 31% responded that they believed it was, while 55% saw it as unlikely. A similar number said there was a low likelihood of violent clashes with security forces.

On Wednesday, a senior commercial lawyer told an Israel Bar Association conference that if the proposals came to pass, he would take up arms against what he said would constitute a dictatorship.

The survey found that 63% of those who voted for one of the parties in the governing coalition viewed the proposed changes positively, whereas 80% of those who voted for opposition parties believed they were negative.

Likewise, there was a strong correlation between views on the proposed judicial overhaul and the level of optimism about the future of Israeli democracy.

“Eighty-one percent of those who think the plan is good are also optimistic about the future of Israeli democracy, while among those who think it is bad, 87% are pessimistic,” the survey found.

Asked what they felt would be the most effective forms of protest, 82% said demonstration; 51% said strikes and ceasing engagement in commerce; 35% suggested blocking entrances to public and government buildings; 35% said blocking roads for a few hours; 22% spoke of a refusal to pay taxes; and 18% said refusing to report for IDF reserves duty.

In recent weeks, thousands have gathered on Saturday nights for protests against the judicial overhaul plans, including one protest in Tel Aviv that attracted more than 100,000 people.

On Tuesday, Verbit founder and CEO Tom Livne said he was uprooting his $2 billion hybrid AI-based and human transcription and captioning software company from Israel to protest the government’s plans, and encouraged other tech CEOs to follow suit.

Israeli tech company employees stage a one-hour protest in Tel Aviv against the planned judicial overhaul, January 24, 2023. (Courtesy)

The likelihood of participation in any form of protest was also heavily influenced by religion, the survey showed, with 0% of Haredi respondents indicating they took part in a protest, 4% of national religious Jews, 7% of traditional religious Jews, 10% of traditional non-religious Jews, and 27% of secular respondents.

Just over half of the respondents (55%) felt protesting would make some sort of difference, and nearly a quarter (23.5%) thought it would have no impact. The remainder said they did not know.

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