Half of Jewish Israelis believe they should have ‘more rights than non-Jews’

Israeli protesters attend a rally against Israels new government in Tel Aviv on 14 January 2023 (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  January 16, 2023

Survey finds most Jewish citizens of Israel identify as rightwing, and believe key decisions on security and the economy should be made by the Jewish majority.

Nearly half of Jewish Israelis believe that they “should have more rights than non-Jewish citizens”, according to an annual survey published by the Israel Democracy Institute on Sunday. 

Almost half of respondents, 49 percent, agreed with the statement, an increase of 12 percent on the same poll last year. 

The survey interviewed a total of 1,311 Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel between May and June last year.  

Most Jewish Israelis (80 percent) believe that crucial decisions on peace and security should be made by a Jewish majority, while 59 percent believe the same to be true on matters of the economy and society. 

Two thirds of Jewish Israelis thought that human rights organizations were causing damage to the state, while only 35 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel held that view. 

When Jewish Israelis were asked whether Jewish or democratic elements of the country should be dominant, 43 percent favoured the Jewish element, 30 percent backed both equally, while 26 percent favoured the democratic element. 

A large majority of Palestinian citizens (78 percent) believe that Palestinians are discriminated against in Israel, while 49 percent of Jewish Israelis agree.

“Over the past two decades there has… been an erosion of public attitudes regarding basic principles of democracy, especially among Jewish Israelis, regarding civil equality,” said Tamar Herman, a policy research director at the Israel Democracy Institute. 

“With the exception of the secular public, among the majority of Jewish Israelis today there is a growing preference to put more of an emphasis on the country’s Jewish character.”

Support for Supreme Court powers

Among Jewish Israelis, the highest level of trust in state institutions was for the Israeli army (88 percent) followed by the country’s presidency (62 percent). 

There were lower levels of trust in the Supreme Court (42 percent), police (35 percent), government (24 percent), media (23 percent) and political parties (nine percent).

Among both Palestinians (71 percent) and Jewish Israelis (56 percent), a majority of citizens believe the Supreme Court should have the power to overturn laws passed in parliament if they contradict democratic principles. 

The newly elected Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning highly controversial judicial reforms, which include a proposed clause allowing parliament to reenact laws disqualified by the Supreme Court with a simple majority of 61 MPs (out of 120). 

“The data in the Israeli Voice Index is clear: there is no majority for initiatives that seek to weaken the Supreme Court and diminish the judiciary,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. 

“What is needed now are leaders from across the political spectrum who can come together and seek reforms that can lead to a constitutional compromise based on the counsel of leading experts and a broad consensus among Israelis.”

The new government is the most rightwing administration in Israel’s history, with Netanyahu’s Likud party in coalition with far-right religious Zionist factions and ultra-Orthodox parties. 

The survey found that 62 percent of Jewish Israelis consider themselves to be on the right, 24 percent in the centre, while only 11 percent are on the left. 

Notably, younger people were more likely to identify with the right, with 73 percent aged between 18 and 24, and 75 percent between 25 and 34. Among people over 65s, 46 percent considered themselves to be on the right.

The vast majority of respondents belonging to religious groups identified with the right, while secular Israelis were more evenly spread between the left, right and centre political leanings.