Israel survey finds deep divisions, displeasure with leaders

By The Canadian Press
December 12, 2017 - 8:45am

JERUSALEM — With the prime minister facing a slew of corruption allegations, the peace process at a standstill and the government moving to stifle critics, it is no secret that Israel is a deeply polarized nation. But a new survey released on Tuesday shows just how divided the country has become.

The annual Israeli Democracy Index found that 45 per cent, or just under half of Israelis, believe the country's democratic system of government is in serious danger. But the survey found very different sentiment among different parts of the population.

Just 23 per cent of Jewish right-wing and religious voters, the base of support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, fear that Israel's democracy is in danger. Yet among Jewish left-wing voters found in the opposition that number jumps to 72 per cent, even higher than the 65 per cent of Arab citizens of Israel who feel that way.

Netanyahu's government, which took office in 2015, is dominated by religious and nationalist parties, many of whom have taken an increasingly hard line against perceived critics of the government.

His culture minister, for example, has moved to block funding to theatres that produce plays critical of the government or that refuse to perform in West Bank settlements. In recent months, Netanyahu and his supporters have responded to various corruption investigations by attacking Israel's media, law enforcement, judiciary and other so-called "elites" he believes are bent on his removal.

Netanyahu's tactics have drawn comparisons to his friend, U.S. President Donald Trump, whose own war against the media and liberal critics propelled him to victory in last year's election.

According to Tuesday's survey, nearly three-quarters of Jewish right-wing voters believe "the leftist judiciary, media and academia interfere with the elected right wing's ability to rule." On the other hand, 79 per cent of secular Jews believe "the religious population is gradually taking control of the state."

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a respected think-tank that sponsors the survey, said the country is riven by "fundamental differences of opinion," not only between Arabs and Jews and not only on questions of security.

"Within the Jewish Israeli public, deep and ongoing disagreements exist regarding the proper balance between Jewish and democratic values of the state," he said.

The survey found widespread dissatisfaction with the country's politicians. It found 68 per cent of all respondents felt that parliament members do not perform their duties properly, and 80 per cent believe politicians are more concerned with their personal interests than those of their constituents.

Tamar Hermann, an Israeli professor who led the research, said that while the dissatisfaction levels were similar to last year's survey, this year there was a marked increase in people who believe the country's overall situation is good, to 48 per cent from 36.5 per cent last year. Nearly three-quarters of Israelis are satisfied with their personal situations.

Hermann, academic director of the institute's Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, said this contrast was striking.

"You see the politicians as if they live on another planet, whereas the public lives on this planet," she said. "In a way, it is possible to live a quite good life on the public planet, whereas on the politicians' planet the situation is quite dismal."

The study interviewed 1,024 people and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. The margin increased to 3.4 points for Jewish respondents and 7.9 points for the smaller Arab sample size. The research was conducted in May, but took months to analyze and publish. Hermann said, however, that public opinion on such issues is "pretty stable."

Josef Federman, The Associated Press

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