Limits of Israeli Democracy
The Israel Democracy Institute has published its 2010 Democracy Index (abstract and full report). It is a particularly comprehensive document and therefore especially interesting. As always with such surveys of Israeli opinion, its reveals a deeply ambivalent, conflicted and confused society regarding what should be the nature of the Israeli state. Israelis want democracy because they realize they should. But they don’t want it so much that they would embrace all the awkward, conflicting values that go along with it. Israelis clearly are Islamophobic, misogynist, and homophobic. Yet these tendencies don’t seem to trouble them overly much. They believe that somehow they’re entitled to their prejudices due to Israel’s status as unwanted interloper in the Middle East. When you’re done reading this summary you’ll no doubt scratch your head and say: just what do Israelis want? Even they don’t know. I’d say a country whose citizens don’t know what they want their state to be are in trouble.
The following is a summary of key indices:
Israel’s high incarceration rate, combined with inadequacies in the rule of law, cause it to fall short of the accepted standard in Western countries.
Israel’s gender equality indicators have declined…
In the Political Stability Index, Israel ranks last among the democracies studied.
Israel scores low marks in the area of social cleavages; these divisions affect the country’s democratic quality and are not diminishing with time.
Here are some of the salient poll numbers:
60% of the population in Israel thinks that a few strong leaders would be better for Israel than all the democratic debates and legislation.
86% of the Jewish public (76% of the total population) thinks that critical decisions for the state should be made by the Jewish majority.
53% of the Jewish public also believe that the State is entitled to encourage the emigration of Arabs [ed., transfer].
81% of the population agrees with the assertion that “democracy is not a perfect regime, but it is better than any other form of government.” However, 55% of the public believes that Israel should put observing the law and public order before the ideals of democracy.
On a scale of 1 to 10 with ten being the highest, the Jewish public awards Israel’s democracy an average grade of 5.4…and the average grade awarded to it by the Arab public (5.1) is slightly lower.
Only 41% of respondents said that they have full or partial confidence in the police force.
72% of the population say that they do not trust the political parties…
43% of the general population feels that it is equally important for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic country, while 31% regards the Jewish component as being more important, and only 20% defines the democratic element as being more important.
…39% believe that human rights are not sufficiently implemented.
54% of the Jewish public opposes the view that legislation should be passed penalizing anyone who speaks out against Zionism.
50% of the Jewish respondents agree that it is important to allow non-Zionist political parties to participate in elections.
56% of veteran Israelis agree that people who have refused to serve in the IDF should not be allowed to vote or stand in elections
51% of the general public approves of equality of rights between Jews and Arabs. The more Orthodox the group, the greater the opposition to equal rights between Jews and Arabs: only 33.5% of secular Jews oppose this, compared with 51% of traditional Jews, 65% of Orthodox Jews and 72% of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
51.5% of the Jewish sample agrees that only immigrants who are Jewish as defined by Halakha should be entitled to receive Israeli citizenship automatically…
55% of the general public thinks that more resources should be allocated to Jewish municipalities than to Arab municipalities…
Within the Jewish public, 71% of right-wing supporters agree that more resources should be allocated to Jewish municipalities than to Arab municipalities, as compared to 46% of centrists and 38% of leftists [!]
39% of the general population supports equal funding of religious services [ed., for all religious groups]
46% of the Jewish public admitted to being most bothered by the possibility of having Arabs as neighbors. This was followed equally by people with mental illness being treated in the community and foreign workers (39% each). 25% would be bothered by same-sex couples, 23% by ultra-Orthodox Jews, 17% by Ethiopian immigrants…
Here are a few of the results that jumped out at me as especially contradictory and/or troubling. While a vast majority of Israelis supported democracy as the best, though imperfect system, a smaller majority support rule by strongmen. Figure that one out! A majority of Israelis supports the notion of transfer, though in this poll it was euphemistically referred to as “encouraging emigration” of Arabs. A bare majority support equal rights for Jews and Arabs (better known as Palestinians!). A bare majority would offer citizenship (through Right of Return) only to those considered Jewish under Orthodox halachic srtictures. A healthy majority favors a lower funding level for Arab municipalities (which has in fact been de facto policy since the founding of the State).
A result that troubles me as much or more than any other is that over 1/3 of those considering themselves “leftist” hold the racist notion that Arab municipalities should receive less government funding than Jews. In fact, these people are not leftist and have no right to consider themselves so. What they are is PEP: progressive except [for] Palestinians. But that’s not truly progressive. It’s bastardized progressivism.
A sharply divided respondent pool believes by a bare plurality that religious services for Jews, Muslims and Christians should be funded equally.
Israeli racism ranks its prejudices in the following order of intensity: Arabs, mentally ill and foreign workers, gays, and Ethiopians. To be fair, Palestinian citizens also show prejudice but mainly against gays.
17 thoughts on “Limits of Israeli Democracy – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
Comments are published at the sole discretion of the owner.
“While a vast majority of Israelis supported democracy as the best, though imperfect system, a smaller majority support rule by strongmen. Figure that one out! ”
Quite simple. note the following passage in the abstract: “In the Political Stability Index, Israel ranks in last place among
the democracies studied “.
There’s a general feeling among Israelis (as I perceive it) that the Knesset squabbles much and gets little done. That many decisions are results of political bargains to form a coalition rather than sound decision making.
The desire for a “strong leader” is really a wish to overcome this near deadlock in the system.
The Knesset is one the most fragmented parliaments in the Western world. The rate of government change one of the highest. This government is Israel’s 32th but only the 18th Knesset, which means that each Knesset (elected for 4 years) forms almost 2 governments on average. As a result, the rate of ministerial turnover is high, stability is low and accountability is zero.
Case in point:
One burning issue today is that of education. Clearly, the system has some inertia to it and it takes time to turn it around. However, Israel had 7(!) education ministers in 10 years! (Just one of them an actual education professional). Countless committees were formed, discussion and deliberations have been had, plans purposed and reports written. Those still gather dust on some shelf.
Very little has been actually done.
So yes, people wish to elect a leader who can get things done and the desire for a “strong leader” is not against democracy, but against bureaucracy.
THere is no doubt that the Israeli political system is totally broken. BUt in my opinion a large part of what is broken is the lack of full equality, democracy & political power for the minority. Of course, the electoral system is broken & the proliferation of political parties most of whom stand for one issue if that (& that issue is often merely greed) is also a major part of the problem. It reminds me of the way people used to talk about Italy’s system. Look what happened to them. They had constant turnover & new governments & then got their strong leader & look who & what that turned out to be–a near fascist womanizer puppet.
“The Knesset is the one most fragmented parliament in the Western world”
No, it is not. The Scandinavian countries also have a 100% proportional representation in Parliament, and Denmark that I know best has between 8 and 12 political parties in the Folketing, going from the far left to the far right, a Christian Democratic Party etc.
That proportional representation and the fragmentation that results is preventing Israeli political life from working is just an often evoked excuse. I think the reason is outside the Knesset: Israel is a fragmented country and this is reflected in their political choices.
If you don’t think a “strong leader” is against democratical traditions, then you’re maybe heading towards ‘light’ fascism. And the ‘light’ is only not to be too brutal.
By the way the poll numbers on JEWISH and/or DEMOCRATIC are amazing:
43% of the GENERAL group feels that it is equally important for Israel to be a Jewish AND democratic State, while 31% regards the Jewish component as being more important, and only 20% [the Palestinian Israelis ? ] defines the democratic element as being more important.
And 86% of the Jewish public thinks that critical decisions for the State should be made by the Jewish majority. To me this IS pure fascism, as far as the Palestinians are not immigrants but the indigenous population of the land.
This one is a linguistic jewel:
“Almost two-thirds (62%) of Jews believs that as long as Israel is in conflict with the PALESTINIANS, the view of ARAB citizens of Israel on foreign policy and security matters should not be taken into consideration”.
I guess the definition of an Arab and a Palestinian depends on which side of the Apartheid Wall you’re living, but I wonder whether Azmi Bishara is now a Palestinian or still an ‘Arab’.
First of all, the Knesset has 12 parties as well, which qualifies it as very fragmented. However, as you point out, what is right for Denmark isn’t necessarily right for Israel.
“Israel is a fragmented country and this is reflected in their political choices”. Of course it is. Far more than Denmark, which has one main ethnicity and one main religion.
Which is precisely why the Knesset shouldn’t be so diverse. Not because representation isn’t important – it is. But the ability to govern is also important. Right now, the balance is tipped to the representation side and the result is paralysis.
There is no magic way to unite the society. People come from too many different backgrounds with many conflicting world views and opinions. Which is why it is important to secure the ability of the government elected by a majority to actually implement decisions.
Besides, the society in the US is even more fragmented, yet they think 2 parties are enough. The UK has 3. Germany has 5 and so does France.
The reason is simple: One can achieve representation via internal political process inside parties, rather than in the parliament directly.
“I guess the definition of an Arab and a Palestinian depends on which side of the Apartheid Wall you’re living”
And I think it depends on whether one has citizenship or not.
“And 86% of the Jewish public thinks that critical decisions for the State should be made by the Jewish majority. To me this IS pure fascism, as far as the Palestinians are not immigrants but the indigenous population of the land”.
Well, I think that a simple majority will suffice, whoever this majority is made of. The Arabs have every right (and obligation!) to participate
I was just pointing out that VERY OFTEN people defend the Israeli cul-de-sac by the political system, i.e, proportional representation, but this is present in many countries, the USA and France being the two well-known exceptions. So the Knesset is not the most fragmented Parliament in the Western World. And by the way, I don’t know for how long you can continue talking about ‘belonging to the Western World’.
I just saw your remark about the political parties. What are you talking about ? UK has only 3 political parties ? I live in France and I guaratee you that there’s much more than 5 political parties. But it is a majority rule, the two highest ranking goes on to a second round, and the winner takes it all. But we [they, I’m not a French citizen] have at least 5 different political parties left of the Socialist Party [social-democrats, more or less].
Thanks for confirming some sanity & democratic values. At least a few Israelis still favor them.
What this poll really demonstrates is that the commitment to democracy per se is rather lukewarm among Israel’s Jews, as is the commitment to Judaism. For the most part, the people of Israel seem deeply infected by an extreme form of the NIMBY syndrome, sinking ever deeper into the narrowest form of parochialism.
This, IMO, indicates a badly-injured society, with scars that won’t heal and boiling pathologies that crisscross the civic body politic with no release in sight. That the political system doesn’t work is simply a reflection of a society in trouble, one that seems to be on a trajectory taking it out of western traditions, and into a jingoistic mind-set more typical of tribal systems of old.
With this kind of intolerance and deteriorating attitudes to their fellow humans, one would hate to envision the kind of “strong man” the Israeli collective would produce, were such a thing come to pass. Let’ face it, a deeply intolerant people do not produce benevolent dictators.
I said before that the reason it’s so important to Israelis to be recognized as “Jewish and democratic” is precisely because they are, for the most part, neither.
And that is the full tragic measure of failure – of the entire zionist enterprise. If all it produced is yet another toxic society, what does it say about the zionist dream itself? the more I think of it the more zionism, as a founding ideology, has the look and feel of communism – seductive but ultimately, doomed.
I dunno what the average Israeli is going to be doing this Saturday (besides Shabbat if they are Orthodox and that’s okay), but I’m going to my first Latke-fest care of some friends. Sounds like freedom and democracy for Jews and Iranians (let’s pretend I’m Muslim, being born into a family that is — I don’t actually come close to fitting the criteria because I’m not pious or religious). Someone may inevitably reply and tell me it’s not really freedom. Fine. It’s closer than a lot of other places, though!
These poll numbers indicate precisely why I think a two state solution is just a continuation of the same, but worse. As per the two state solution, I’ve always told people they should ask King Solomon if they should split the baby.
Many years ago I’ve noticed an interesting coincidence: countries having “Democratic” in their name were the most undemocratic of them all. Being “Jewish AND Democratic” seems to be the display of the same symptom.
Everybody loves “Democracy”, sure, why not. It’s cool to be democratic. We are all for democracy. This poll clearly shows this.
Nobody will admit that what actually he has in mind looks pretty much like a fascist regime.
That’s just what I was trying to say above. But you said it better and more briefly.
why do you insist on mistating what is said in a poll?
” * 46% of the Jewish public admitted to being most bothered by the possibility of having Arabs as neighbors. This was followed equally by people with mental illness being treated in the community and foreign workers (39% each). 25% would be bothered by same-sex couples, 23% by ultra-Orthodox Jews, 17% by Ethiopian immigrants, 10% by non-Sabbath observers, and 8% by immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.
* The Arab public is less tolerant than Jews of neighbors who are “Other.” 70% thought the least desirable neighbors would be same-sex couples and 67% were opposed to having ultra-Orthodox Jews as neighbors, followed closely by 65% who would be opposed to former settlers. 48% answered that the most “tolerable” neighbors would be foreign workers.”
not at all like your statement
“Israeli racism ranks its prejudices in the following order of intensity: Arabs, mentally ill and foreign workers, gays, and Ethiopians. To be fair, Palestinian citizens also show prejudice but mainly against gays.”
the poll may or may not gauge racism….but the question was asked who one would prefer as a neighbor.
and to be fair…the ultra orthodox rank above the ethiopians in others not wishing to be their neighbors and arabs rank the ultra orthodox pretty close to gays
and not wanting a mental health facility in ones neighborhood has nothing to do with prejudice
You can’t even read the original survey questions you yrself quoted. It did NOT asked who you would PREFER. It asked who would most BOTHER you. Totally different question. Bother=racism.
Once again you’re mischaracterizing the survey question. It asked nothing about a mental health facility. It asked how they would feel about having mentally ill individuals living among them as neighbors.
You’ve never been one for accuracy or precision, have you?
“and not wanting a mental health facility in ones neighborhood has nothing to do with prejudice”
… but with what instead?
Dier Yassin – Your confusing between two kinds of comparisons. I was comparing parties actually elected to parliament, not the total number of parties legally registered.
Today’s parliament in the UK is divided between Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats, who together hold 96% of seats in the parliament.
If Wikipedia’s correct, the French parliament has 5 or 6 parties in it.
Compare it with the Knesset that has 12.
Sure, there are many parties not elected or represented at negligible seats. If we count those in Israel… I could add at least 5 without looking up references. This is the list of legally registered parties in Israel:
33 parties. That’s for a country of 7.5 million people
“Dier Yassin – your confusing between two kind of comparison”
I was commenting on this sentence:
“Besides, the society in the US is even more fragmented, yet they think 2 parties are enough. The UK has 3, Germany has 5 and so has France”.
You said nothing about ‘represented in Parliament.
Personnally, I think the Us and French political systems are highly undemocratic, and I do prefer the Nordic/Israeli system of representation. In France, there is a very strong demand from the socalled ‘civic society’ for at least some proportional representation, but of course the biggest parties, the Socialist Party, and the ruling liberal UMP don’t want that. In fact, it’s often explained that France stick to the majority represenation in order to prevent the far-right National Front from entering the Parliament, though they get between 10 and 15% of the votes. In my opinion, this is highly hypocritical, either you allow them to exist and to participate in the political life or you ban them. And it gives them a good excuse to consider themselves as martyrs.