Israelis ‘increasingly losing faith’ in government, report shows

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Israelis ‘increasingly losing faith’ in government, report shows

A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute shows growing cynicism in the Jewish state's public institutions

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in the Knesset in 2016
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in the Knesset in 2016

A leading Israeli think-tank has found that Israelis are increasingly losing faith in their government and most Israeli public institutions.

The findings of a survey from the Israel Democracy Institute mirror the global trend of dissatisfaction and cynicism which is thought to have helped propel Britain’s exit from the European Union and the victory of US President-elect Donald Trump.

The think-tank also found a continuing nationalistic streak among the country’s Jewish majority, with more than half of respondents in a nationwide survey opposed to allowing Arab political parties into the governing coalition.

Tamar Hermann, an Israeli professor who led the research, said the study found a “value shift” away from Israel’s traditional liberal democratic roots which should concern its leadership.

“Israelis are shifting away from the cosmopolitan point of view to a more communitarian, nationalistic, ethnic, religious point of view, much like is happening in other countries,” said Ms Hermann, academic director of the Guttman Centre for Public Opinion and Policy Research, which compiles the annual Israeli Democracy Index.

The study found a “significant drop” in the public’s trust in Israeli political institutions.

Trust in the Knesset, or parliament, fell to 26.5% from 35% last year. Similarly, trust in the government fell to 27% from 36%, and three quarters of respondents now feel their politicians are detached.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin said the findings are troubling and required national soul-searching, adding that “at this moment of trial for democracies, we have to make an effort so that our democracy will be vital, strong and committed to all it citizens”.

The only institution that maintained its strong standing was the Israeli military, which is trusted by 90% of the Jewish public and 82% when the Arab minority is factored in.

While Ms Hermann cited “global trends” for the sentiments in the poll, Israel has been undergoing its own process of rising nationalism in recent years, driven by failed peace efforts with the Palestinians, a year-long wave of violence in Israel and the West Bank, three wars against Hamas militants in Gaza and the growing political power of religiously motivated West Bank settlers in the government.

The survey found that 71% of Jewish respondents believe that human rights groups, which have been harshly criticised by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, cause damage to the state. That was up from 56% a year earlier.

Likewise, it found that 59% of Jews oppose having Arab parties as part of governing coalitions, and 52.5% of Jews believe that those who refuse to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people should be stripped of their right to vote.

Ms Hermann said that Mr Netanyahu should be “very worried” about the shrinking level of public trust in the government, but that overall he might be pleased by the growing nationalist tide in the country.

“He’s not going to cry over the result,” she said.

The Guttman Centre is a division of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent non-partisan think-tank. The survey interviewed 1,531 adults, broken down between Jewish and Arab respondents, last May and had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points for the Jewish sample, and 6.6 points for its smaller Arab sample.

The survey included some bright spots, including a widespread consensus that Israeli democracy must be maintained and high support for freedom of speech.

The survey also included comparisons with other countries, finding it average or above average in many key areas, such as freedom of the press and civil liberties.

Israel ranked very high in political participation, and near the bottom in a measure of political stability and absence of violence.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, urged the country’s leaders to learn from the data.

“While there is overwhelming support for the notion of democracy, the democratic brand is still very strong. But the understanding or interpretation of what democracy is all about in some respects is extremely thin and requires immediate action,” he said.

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