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Poll Reveals Israelis Support Limiting Democratic Rights

The Only Democracy in the Middle East, right?  Wrong.  Tel Aviv University’s Steinmetz Center published an important opinion survey about Israeli Jewish attitudes toward free speech and civil liberties when they harm Israel’s reputation or that of the IDF.  The poll was taken against the backdrop of the Kamm-Blau case and the smear campaign against the New Israel Fund.  Anyone who supports the possibility of democracy in this country must be positively demoralized by the results:

The pollsters surveyed 500 Jewish Israelis who can be considered a representative sample of the adult Jewish population.

They found that 57.6 percent of the respondents agreed that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely.

Slightly more than half agreed that “there is too much freedom of expression” in Israel.

The poll also found that most of the respondents favor punishing Israeli citizens who support sanctioning or boycotting the country, and support punishing journalists who report news that reflects badly on the actions of the defense establishment.

Another 82 percent of respondents said they back stiff penalties for people who leak illegally obtained information exposing immoral conduct by the defense establishment.

…Virtually all the respondents, 98 percent, said freedom of expression was important, but the picture changed when the questions got into the details.

Regarding human rights groups’ rights to operate freely, responses varied based upon the respondents’ reported political views. Of those who said they were right-wing, 76 percent said human rights groups should not have the right to freely publicize immoral conduct on Israel’s part.

…The poll showed 65 percent of all of those questioned think the Israeli media should be barred from publishing news that defense officials think could endanger state security, even if the news was reported abroad.

Another 43 percent said the media should not report information confirmed by Palestinian sources that could reflect poorly on the Israeli army. Fifty-eight percent of respondents opposed harsh criticism of the country, an increase of 10 percentage points from 2003.

The academic pollster, Daniel Bar-Tal, whose work will be featured at Thursday’s TAU conference on free speech and academic freedom sponsored by the Steinmetz Center, put the results in a political-analytical context:

“Israelis have a distorted perception of democracy,” said Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor at the university’s school of education, and one of the conference’s organizers. “The public recognizes the importance of democratic values, but when they need to be applied, it turns out most people are almost anti-democratic.”

Another conference participant, Ben-Gurion University’s David Newman…[noted]: “We say Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, but in Europe they are beginning to think of us otherwise,” he said.

The standard line of defense against this argument is that Israel is beset on all sides by enemies and therefore cannot afford the luxury of the rights and liberties enjoyed by those Sybarites who enjoy the good life in western democracies.  The cynical Israelis resent the hell out of our supposed moral superiority and throw it back in our faces: “I’d like to see how you’d respond if you confronted the threat of terror attacks day in day out as we do here.”

They forget of course that democracy is truly tested not when things go well for a society, but when it davke faces precisely the types of threats faced by Israel now and in the past.  While it is true that immediately following 9/11, George Bush and many Americans treated civil liberties as if they were luxuries that could ill be afforded, this country has largely rejected these arguments.  Yes, the Obama administration has still retained some of the more unfortunate policies of its predecessor, but America is no longer engaged in a war on terror, thank God.

If Israel wishes to be a democracy, then it cannot pick and choose which rights its honors and which it discards when they become inconvenient.  Free speech, free press…these are absolute rights that cannot be abridged as the respondents appear to believe.  Doing so, renders it a truncated democracy at best.  And I’m not even talking about the even more wretched treatment handed out to Israel’s Palestinian citizens and residents of the Occupied Territories.

So when the Israel lobby attempts to sell the line that Israel “shares our values,” surveys like this will bring them up short.  Israel is not like us.  Perhaps it would like to be like us.  And it would certainly be better off if it could be.  But it is not.  This explains, at least in part, why Israelis appear unwilling to make the sacrifices and compromises necessary for peace with the Palestinians.  They simply prefer living in this cocoon of their own making.

And lest those who support Israel think that such attitudes are theoretical and don’t have tangible repercussions for the health and well-being of society, I note another survey of Israel Jews between 20-30 years old.  When asked whether they would emigrate to the U.S. if they could do so without excessive visa complications, 60% said they would.

There might be many reasons why this would be so.  Not all of them have to do with politics or Israel’s battered democracy.  Many would like to emigrate for a better lifestyle, professional opportunities, because they have family there, etc.  But the truth of the matter is that living in Israel is a Zionist imperative and for young people to be willing to do and think the unthinkable, there must be compelling reasons.  And I maintain that fear of war, bringing up children who may have to fight an unending battle against Israel’s neighbors, living in a country in which democracy and civil liberties are only partially honored–all of these take a heavy toll in the mind of a young person making important life choices.  Israeli youth are very aware of the wider world outside Israel.  They feel, for whatever reason, that life outside would be better.  The nation would do well to grapple with the reasons why this is so and do what it can to align the aspirations of its young people with those of the nation as a whole.

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  • Yakov April 28, 2010, 6:07 AM

    I must say I find these results disturbing, much like you do.
    However, it’s a sucker punch to conduct such polls when people are influenced by recent events. I’m sure that if someone asked the american people what they thought about Arabs/Muslims and thier human rights, say, two weeks after 9/11, attitues would be different compared to what they might be 3 years later.

    So, there’s a difference between what people may think *right now* and the issues they may actually act upon.

    As for your comment about 60% of Israelis between 20 and 30 years old wishing to emmigrate, there’s something else you might have missed. the poll says “60% would take off”. exactly what “taking off” means? Leaving Israel for good? Leaving for a college degree? Taking 5 years to make some money and come back? I know many people (including myself) whose families were abroad (outside Israel) for a few years and than came back – which is a sign of “aligned aspirations”

    • Gene Schulman April 28, 2010, 7:54 AM

      Wait for and read a coming article by Raphael Ahrens in Haaretz. He has contacted us at Geneva American Citizens Abroad to see how American expats are reacting to the double taxation on them, and the rumors (fact) that many are giving up their US passports. He mentioned some facts about US citizens in Israel and we had a rather interesting exchange about Israelis ready to “take off.” Some of my Israeli friends have already done so. They’d rather keep their US citizenship so they have a refuge when things get really bad in Israel.

    • Steffen April 28, 2010, 8:54 PM

      “influenced by recent events”

      It’s Kamm-Blau now, a Qassam or a Katyusha tomorrow, an Intifada every so often.

      I am not sure it would be easy to find a time in Israel when people are not influenced by recent events – given the proliferation of such recent events.

  • uncle joe mccarthy April 28, 2010, 10:06 AM

    richard,

    do you have a link to the raw data? when analyzing a poll, it is always important to see how the questions were asked

    to me, this poll shows that israel is indeed comparable to the world’s democracies

    only in america is there almost absolute free speech (still cant yell fire in a crowded theater)

    but most european countries, canada and others do limit free speech

    for example, one can be prosecuted in germany for being a holocaust denier.

    • Elisabeth April 28, 2010, 12:58 PM

      What is wrong with using normal punctuation, as well as capital letters when starting a sentence? I notice I am always sort of ‘skipping’ your messages because I find the typesetting so unpleasant to read.

      I know this style of writing is common in some internet settings, but as you must have noticed, people commenting on this blog usually adhere to the accepted rules of punctuation.

      You are probably not aware of this, but it somehow comes across as rude, as if you do not respect your readers. One can hardly expect people to read an argument with an open mind, when it is handed to them as if written on toilet paper.

    • Richard Silverstein April 28, 2010, 1:51 PM

      to me, this poll shows that israel is indeed comparable to the world’s democracies

      You’re out of your mind.

  • Kalea April 28, 2010, 10:44 AM

    As I stated several times previously, Democracy and Zionism are incompatible ideologies. Israelis have a dirty little secret. They suffer from an affliction called “apathy”, and are fearful of and condescending to Israeli Jews who don’t suffer from it. They want to enjoy every freedom afforded to them but deny all freedom to Palestinians and try to deny any Israeli who dares to sympathize with Palestinians those same freedoms. Israelis are desperate to protect their ignorant bliss, apathy and discrimination.

    Apathy should be a crime against humanity because of its complicity with corrupt governance. Lest we forget Israel is moving more and more to the right because the majority of Israelis are electing politicians who represent those undemocratic values.

    Again, Zionism is an unsustainable injustice that suffocates Democracy.

    • uncle joe mccarthy April 28, 2010, 11:26 AM

      if apathy were a crime against humanity, you would have to imprison 90 percent of americans

      polls are not laws

      polls are opinion

      there is still freedom of speech in israel…more than anywhere in the mideast

      that inlcudes the rights that hamas and the pa afford to their own citizens

      the pa just passed a law that makes it a crime to purchase goods made in israeli settlements

      one thing to organize a boycott….quite another to make it a punishable offense

      and yet, i have a feeling you support that law

      so there are times when you too would support removing a freedom

      • Richard Silverstein April 28, 2010, 1:54 PM

        i have a feeling you support that law

        so there are times when you too would support removing a freedom

        The next time you tell me what I support, you’ll be in hot water. Don’t assume what I do or don’t support.

        If there is freedom of speech in Israel then why were 700 Israeli citizens arrested merely for protesting the Gaza war in a completely peaceable manner???

        • uncle joe mccarthy April 28, 2010, 7:01 PM

          wait a sec…did you post under an assumed alias? cuz i was responding to kalea

          is there freedom of speech when protestors are arrested at the republican national convention?

          is there freedom when the rights to assemble are severely curtailed with “free speech zones” at both conventions?

          is there freedom when a protestor is tazed at a speech by john kerry?

          is there freedome when 11 are arrested at uci for disrupting a speech by an israeli politician?

          gotchya baby

          israel is just like america

          rejoice

          • Kalea April 28, 2010, 9:23 PM

            “Israel is just like America.”

            I wasn’t aware that America is preventing another nation from achieving sovereignty, stealing land from occupied people, subjecting an entire city to a blockade, restricting travel and movement with hundreds of checkpoints, occupying farmland with military buffer zones, demolishing homes, evicting families, ethnically cleansing by means of draconian laws and depriving them of human and legal rights?

            Try again.

          • Richard Silverstein April 28, 2010, 11:53 PM

            is there freedom of speech when protestors are arrested at the republican national convention?

            …gotchya baby

            israel is just like america

            rejoice

            Stop being a juvenile. This isn’t a game of gotcha. If you want to play that game go elsewhere. We’re not here for grandstanding or point scoring.

            All the incidents you named involved local police actions, most of which were challenged in courts. In some cases, the judicial system remedied the harm caused by local authorities. In all cases, there were higher courts to which to appeal. In Israel, things are not the same. On a security matter such as this, no court in the land would dare 2nd guess the police. Yr understanding of the way Israel works is simply pedestrian & primitive.

            you mean the corporat owned supreme court that granted personhood to corporations

            Guess what, our legislative branch has the opportunity to correct a bad Supreme Court decision. Guess who doesn’t? That’s right Israel. No separate of powers. No checks & balances. No legislative review. No legal precedents.

      • Mary Hughes-Thompson April 29, 2010, 4:52 AM

        What is wrong about passing a law prohibiting doing business with your enemies? Note they talk only of goods made in illegal settlements, not in Israel. The US makes it a punishable offense to buy Cuban cigars.

  • Kalea April 28, 2010, 10:48 AM

    I forget this paragraph which should go at the beginning of my other post:

    If Israeli youth are disenchanted with Israel’s undemocratic policies and yet have all they can dream of under the sun and every opportunity available to them just imagine how Palestinian youth feel who have very few opportunities and are subjected to unimaginable injustice imprisoned for 2 or 3 generations under Israel’s military sovereignty undemocratic laws?

  • bar_kochba132 April 28, 2010, 3:58 PM

    I don’t understand how the poll results can come out this way, Richard. You are constantly telling us that the “majority of Israelis” agree with you. That the majority of Israelis are “progressive”, that the majority want “peace” along the lines you state. Of course, you never explain how it is then that the election results have brought to power so many “right-wing governments” that you have to end up excoriating.

    • Richard Silverstein April 28, 2010, 5:32 PM

      You are constantly telling us that the “majority of Israelis” agree with you. That the majority of Israelis are “progressive”

      Never said that. Provide any proof that I ever said such a thing. I didn’t. Israelis tend to be pragmatic, which is diff. than progressive. Their pragmatic views agree w. mine in many, but not all areas. In fact, they’re so pragmatic that when the U.S. is finally forced to offer its own plan to the parties with the support of the Quartet & western allies, that Israel & the Palestinians will go along.

      • Pea April 28, 2010, 8:51 PM

        Richard: Maybe what bar_kochba132 is referring to is this comment written on September 22, 2009 where you stated “I am in favor of a Palestinian state, so are most Israelis. I’m in favor of sharing Jerusalem, so are most Israelis. I’m in favor of negotiating with Hamas, so are most Israelis. I’m in favor of withdrawal from most West Bank settlements, so are most Israelis. I’m in favor of the Geneva Accord parameters, so are most Israelis. The opinion polls proving these statements are all in this blog. You can argue till you’re blue in the face. But yr arguments will just be wind I’m afraid.”

        Oddly enough, bar_kochba132 is making a point similar to the one made on Jewlicious where I first found this reference.

        Please don’t shoot the messenger!

        • Richard Silverstein April 28, 2010, 11:57 PM

          You people just don’t seem to get it. For the 4th or 5th time now (& don’t bring this up again), my views are in accord with the views of Israelis on THESE SPECIFIC ISSUES as proven by polls of Israeli opinions to which I’ve linked here. Those are simply facts you can’t argue with. I make no claim that the majority of Israelis agree with every view of mine. But I think there is enough raw material to work with that a peace agreement could be negotiated if there was political will on the Israeli side. Thanks to the useless governments in power for the past number of years that won’t happen.

          Don’t link to Jewlicious. I’m not sending a single reader of mine to that piece of dreck.

  • Dave Boxthorn April 28, 2010, 5:10 PM

    Arizona (I’d leave it at that but your comment system won’t allow for only 7 letters)

    • Richard Silverstein April 28, 2010, 5:39 PM

      I trust the U.S. Supreme Court to put Arizona in its proper place. Would that the Israeli Supreme Court had the same power to review laws & find them unconstitutional.

      Pls. don’t speak in riddles & lv. readers to try to decipher yr meaning. You may think you’re being cute & witty but trust me, you’re not.

      • uncle joe mccarthy April 28, 2010, 7:08 PM

        you mean the corporat owned supreme court that granted personhood to corporations?

        and im out of my mind?

        • Kalea April 28, 2010, 9:31 PM

          You insist on comparing Israel with the U.S., but do me a favor, go live in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank for a year first and then get back to me.

          • uncle joe mccarthy April 28, 2010, 11:05 PM

            too late…already did that

            before the first intifada…lived for 2 years in fact

            in the evil settlement of gush etizion

            even then though, we didnt go into gaza…so i dont think ill take you up on that

            and just so you know, i did alot of tiyulim throughout the west bank, to see how the other half lived…never saw anyone get shot by an idf soldier

            but im confused, are you a reg poster or richard?

            oh, and ive been in parts of this country that make much of the west bank seem like gan eden by comparison

            why dont you spend a year in compton….i dare you

          • Richard Silverstein April 29, 2010, 12:04 AM

            i did alot of tiyulim throughout the west bank, to see how the other half lived

            Your attempts at a breezy, jaunty tone come off as horribly condescending & merely impeach yrself instead of persuading anyone to take you seriously. Do you seriously think that on a tiyul you saw how the other half lived? So let’s get real: how many palestinians have you ever had a serious conversation with? How many books about Palestine have you read? How many Palestinian blogs have you read? What serious attempt on yr part at understanding Palestinians can you point to?

            ive been in parts of this country that make much of the west bank seem like gan eden by comparison

            Really, you yrself admit that you wouldn’t step foot in Gaza. Yet you have the chutzpah to claim you’ve been to places in the U.S. more dangerous than a place you refused to visit presumably because you thought it was a pretty bad place to be.

        • Elisabeth April 29, 2010, 1:41 PM

          What you do is, you hold down the ‘shift’ key, and then when you type a letter it looks sort of funny and big, but it’s called a ‘capital letter’, and grown up’s use it.

          But I guess that is just too much of an effort when dealing with people like Richard and his ilk, right?

          (Just ignore this guy until he learns how to show some respect to his readers.)

          • amir May 1, 2010, 7:58 AM

            Elisabeth – An apostrophe can be used in place of deleted letters, as in the word “doesn’t” or to demonstrate possessiveness as in “Richard’s blog”. There is no need to use it with plurals such as “grown up’s”.

          • Elisabeth May 2, 2010, 2:22 AM

            I see your English is better than mine, and infinitely better than Uncle Joe’s. (Correct use of apostrophe now?)

  • Rakiah April 28, 2010, 9:50 PM

    Since 75.5 percent of the population of Israel are Jewish and 57.6 percent think human rights organizations that expose immoral behavior by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely, and we can assume the the rest of the 24.5 percent of the Israeli population (who are largely Arab) would think human rights organiz…ations that expose immoral behavior by Israel SHOULD be allowed to operate freely, that means that of the total Israeli population, around only 43.2 percent back “gag on rights groups.”

    • Richard Silverstein April 28, 2010, 11:59 PM

      This was a poll of JEWISH opinion, not Jewish and Arab opinion. Do read what I write. It’s right there in my post & in the Haaretz article.

      • Rakiah April 29, 2010, 6:02 AM

        Richard, I am very aware that is was of Jewish opinion, but the title of the article is: “Poll Reveals Israelis Support Limiting Democratic Rights,” which suggests a conflation of Israeli with Jewish citizen, and obscures the fact that it just isn’t true that a majority of Israelis support this opinion.

        It is an important fact that NEEDS to be emphasized (I would think that you would want it emphasized in your article), that really, only 43 percent of the Israeli citizenry support these type of anti-democratic limits on freedom of information when it suits them.

        Gideon Levy does the same mistake in his article: “Israel’s tyranny of the majority is dangerous,” and it is frustrating. You would think that it worth mentioning (especially by that likes of Levy and you) that a Jewish Israeli majority doesn’t necessarily mean an Israeli majority.

        Though that is what the Israeli hegemonic discourse would like us to think, it ain’t the truth, especially in the “democracy” that Israel professes to have.

        • Richard Silverstein April 29, 2010, 12:07 PM

          only 43 percent of the Israeli citizenry support these type of anti-democratic limits on freedom of information when it suits them.

          It’s not Israeli Palestinians & their notions of civil liberties that I worry about. It is Israeli Jews who I worry about because they predominate politically & power rests with them to determine the nature of Israeli society. It is an unfortunate fact, but true nevertheless. So inserting the views of Israeli Palestinians into the poll would be misleading & that is why the pollster did not do so & I agree w. him.

          • Rakiah April 29, 2010, 1:06 PM

            What you say is both true and false. I was not saying that you should make the issue the center of your argument, but leaving it out, and even worse than that with Gideon Levy who professed it as ‘majority opinion’ plays into the hegemonic discourse in Israel that says Israel Jew = Israeli.

            I also disagree that the pollsters didn’t include the Israeli Palestinian view due so as not to be misleading, in fact the opposite is true. A good study would have looked at both Israeli opinion as a whole, and then broke it down into sectors (Jewish/Arab, secular/religious, right/left). Not just look at 500 ‘representative’ Jewish Israelis.

            Again, to not show the whole picture, reifies and reinforces the current false assumptions.

          • Richard Silverstein April 29, 2010, 5:29 PM

            A good study would have looked at both Israeli opinion as a whole, and then broke it down into sectors (Jewish/Arab, secular/religious, right/left). Not just look at 500 ‘representative’ Jewish Israelis.

            I have no problem w. that. But pollsters generally do what their client wants. I don’t know who decided to focus on Jews & exclude Palestinians.

            But it’s pretty much a given that Israeli Arabs would value civil rights, democracy, & the activities of whistleblowers & those ferreting out misdeeds in the IDF. We pretty much know that their views are progressive on this issue. The real unknown is how Jews view things on this issue.

  • Mentawai October 28, 2010, 8:48 PM

    Richard, I am very aware that is was of Jewish opinion, but the title of the article is: “Poll Reveals Israelis Support Limiting Democratic Rights,” which suggests a conflation of Israeli with Jewish citizen, and obscures the fact that it just isn’t true that a majority of Israelis support this opinion.

    It is an important fact that NEEDS to be emphasized (I would think that you would want it emphasized in your article), that really, only 43 percent of the Israeli citizenry support these type of anti-democratic limits on freedom of information when it suits them.

    Gideon Levy does the same mistake in his article: “Israel’s tyranny of the majority is dangerous,” and it is frustrating. You would think that it worth mentioning (especially by that likes of Levy and you) that a Jewish Israeli majority doesn’t necessarily mean an Israeli majority.

    Though that is what the Israeli hegemonic discourse would like us to think, it ain’t the truth, especially in the “democracy” that Israel professes to have.

    • Richard Silverstein October 28, 2010, 11:32 PM

      I think that the Jewish majority in Israel is, in some cases & on some issues, quite anti-democratic & willing to reduce liberties not just for Palestinian citizens, but their fellow Jewish citizens as well. So if you want to put a nice gloss on these statistics I can’t help you. They’re chilling any way you look at ‘em.