The 2007 Israeli Democracy Index

Cohesion in a Divided Society

Social cohesion has always been a prominent characteristic of Israeli society. In ordinary times, and particularly in times of trouble, values of mutuality, solidarity, and cohesiveness have stood out. In recent years, however, and particularly in the months that followed the Second Lebanon War, feelings of weariness, affront, and disgust with political processes in general and with the political system in particular have become widespread in Israel. The reasons for this low point in the general mood are many and diverse. Besides terrorism attacks and the continued struggle with the Palestinians, the results of the war in the summer of 2006 are a source of concern to many Israelis. Another troubling issue is their disgust with the corruption that, in their view, has spread everywhere. The level of satisfaction with the rule of law, the public administration, and the political leadership has gradually been shrinking year after year, and the tensions within the society remain sharp and far from healing. A finding showing that 80% of the respondents are concerned about Israel’s current situation will suffice to describe the sensitive plight of Israeli democracy in 2007, which emerges as fluid and fragile and needing strengthening and support.

And yet, the 2007 Democracy Index published by the independent, non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute also includes several encouraging findings. The Index shows that most citizens are very proud to be Israeli, despite the current feelings. More than they are proud of their citizenship, they are convinced of their intention to remain in the country in the long term. When they cast doubts on this, 76% explain their hesitation as based on security and economic reasons. Most respondents report they perceive themselves as an inseparable part of the State of Israel and its problems and are ready to fight for the country should the need arise. Most respondents are interested in politics and talk with their friends and family about political issues. Beside their pride about the country and their concern with it, most of them are in a good or very good mood, and think they will be able to adapt to the current situation. 74% have trust in the IDF despite the results of the war in the summer of 2006, and only 13% hold that the defense budget should be cut. The rest hold it should eitherbe increased or kept as is. Israel is characterized by deep social and ideological rifts, and the relationships between various population groups are discussed at length in this document. 87% of the participants in the survey pointed out that relationships between Arabs and Jews are not good or not at all good; 79% said that relationships between rich and poor in the country are not good; 66% held that relationships between religious and secular Jews are not good. The level of trust in other people has considerably weakened in recent years: only 31% of the respondents reported they have trust in one another. And yet, 65% believe that people in Israel are prepared to compromise on issues important to them to reach an agreed basis that will enable everyone to live together.

As in previous indices, participants in the 2007 Democracy Index were asked for their views on the country’s institutions. The trust that Israeli citizens have in politicians has considerably declined in recent years. The most prominent figure in the 2007 Index points to a decline of 22% in the level oftrust that people have in the Prime Minister (21%) as opposed to last year (43%). Trust in the Knesset and in political parties remained as it had been in 2006 – extremely low. 86% of the respondents note that the way the government deals with the country’s problems is not good: only 30% trust the declarations of political echelons on matters of security; 70% agree that politicians do not tend to take into account the view of the ordinary citizen. The considerable drop in voter turnout in the 2006 elections (63.5%) compared to previous elections is another indication of the public’s disappointment and frustration with the establishment. All these emphasize the flaws and inadequacies in the functioning of Israel’s political system. In an international comparison, however, Israel’s situation has improved vis-à-vis previous evaluations and by comparison with other countries. The 2007 Democracy Index shows that, out of 20 quantitative measures that were updated, 9 show improvement and 6 remained as they had been last year. It bears mention that the measures showing deterioration are those of political corruption, which point to a worsening trend in the evaluation of Israel over the last five years. The effectiveness of the administration was also found to be weaker in an international comparison, as well as the aspect of government stability, which has consistently received low evaluations by comparison with other countries.

The 2007 Democracy Index also seeks to examine, as did previous indices, the strength of Israeli democracy and the level of public support for it. This year, a considerable decline was recorded in the rate of those satisfied with its functioning: 66% declared they are not satisfied with the way Israeli democracy functions – a rise of 12% vis-à-vis last year. The implications of this figure and of other grave signs in Israeli democracy should raise concern among those involved in politics, but not only among them.

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Source: The Israel Democracy Institute