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Public losing faith in IDF, but trusts it more than any other institution – poll

Military officials downplay ongoing downward trend, but recognize importance of maintaining broad support; Kohavi to head team to look into issue

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli soldiers stand between Palestinians and a Jewish settlers following a settler attack on the West Bank village of Burqa, December 17, 2021 after the funeral of Yehuda Dimentman, 25, who was killed in a shooting attack by a Palestinian gunman (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers stand between Palestinians and a Jewish settlers following a settler attack on the West Bank village of Burqa, December 17, 2021 after the funeral of Yehuda Dimentman, 25, who was killed in a shooting attack by a Palestinian gunman (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The public’s confidence in the Israel Defense Forces has decreased over the past year, continuing a downward trend, though the military remains the most trusted institution in the country among Jewish Israelis, according to a poll published Thursday.

The survey, conducted annually by the Israel Democracy Institute, found that 78 percent of Jewish Israelis said they had “very much or quite a lot” of trust in the military in 2021, compared to 81% the previous year and 90% the year before. That is the lowest level of confidence in the IDF since 2008, according to the think tank.

The IDF said in a statement on Thursday that it was taking the poll seriously and considered public trust to be “an important factor in fulfilling its mission.”

The poll was conducted on the internet and by telephone on June 15-24 and October 24-27, with 1,004 men and women being interviewed in Hebrew and 184 in Arabic, in accordance with the rough Jewish-Arab proportions of the population.

Military officials have in downplayed similar findings by the annual survey in previous years, maintaining that its own internal polling has not found the same drop in public support, though that data has not been released to the public. IDF officials have also noted that neither the poll nor the IDI has identified any particular causes for the drop in confidence and that public trust has decreased among Jewish Israelis across the board, not just in the military.

Indeed, only the president and “the government” saw a slight rise in faith among Jewish Israelis, with all other public institutions — the Supreme Court, Israel Police, Knesset, media and political parties — seeing decreases from 2020 to 2021.

Despite those qualifications, the military said on Thursday that it was “undergoing processes to learn and improve.”

Prior to the release of the IDI poll, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced plans to form a team, which he would lead, to investigate the matter of the Israeli public’s trust in the military.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony in Jerusalem, on August 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

A number of incidents put the IDF in the middle of political fights in 2021, which may have contributed to the drop in public trust.

Last month, the IDF came under fire from right-wing lawmakers after the military said soldiers were attacked by settlers outside the illegal Homesh outpost. In a statement, the IDF spokesperson said one soldier had been hit by a car driven by a settler and that other troops had been physically and verbally attacked. Far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich accused the military of “spreading blatant lies in order to besmirch the settlers.”

The military also faced considerable public criticism after a Border Police sniper, Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who was shot dead by a Palestinian gunman during a riot on the Gaza border. Shmueli’s family, as well as right-wing lawmakers, accused the military of “tying the hands” of soldiers with overly strict open-fire regulations and not allowing them to adequately defend themselves, a claim that the IDF vigorously denied.

The IDF also faced criticism from the left over its unwillingness to curb violence by settlers against Palestinians, as numerous videos surfaced throughout the year showing soldiers standing by as masked settlers assaulted Palestinians or damaged their property.

In addition, throughout 2021, the military was engaged in an active, public battle with the Finance Ministry over a highly contentious raise to the pensions of IDF retirees. Those increases to the benefits of former IDF officers and non-commissioned officers, who often go on to have highly lucrative secondary careers as they retire at relatively young ages, were met with fierce criticism, particularly as conscripted soldiers earn far below minimum wage. The military defended the benefits as necessary in order to keep talented people in the IDF when they would otherwise leave to get better-paying jobs in the civilian world.

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