Israel: Secular citizens feel threatened by new government, study finds

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  January 6, 2023

Majority of country’s population feels democracy and rule of law are being eroded.

A significant majority of secular Jews in Israel increasingly feel their lifestyles are threatened by Israel’s right-wing government, according to a new poll.

The Israel Democracy Institute, which published the results for its latest poll on Wednesday, found that 70 percent of secular Jews were worried about what the increasing power of religious and far-right groups in Israeli society could mean for them.

Following November’s elections, there was optimism about the state of democracy in the country, with 46 percent of people believing things will get better, an 11-point jump from October.

Since then, however, the numbers have dipped again as concerns have grown about how the new government could erode the rule of law and democracy in the country.

Around 43 percent of Israelis are optimistic versus 40 percent who are pessimistic. However, the poll only reflects views up until 22 December.

Since then, the new Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, agreed on a new coalition government with a number of far-right religious parties who advocate a greater role for Judaism in public life and a radical overhaul of the legal system.

The Israeli justice minister Yariv Levin has announced plans for legal reforms that would overhaul the country’s judicial system and limit the authority of the Supreme Court.

Opposition figures and activists, including former prime minister Yair Lapid, have warned that the reforms are a grave threat to democracy and a “revolution against the system of government in Israel”.

According to the poll, 49 percent of respondents agreed that “democratic rule in Israel is in grave danger”, the same figure as last year.

The results, however, also reveal increasing polarization. On the right, which now finds itself in power, there was a fall in people believing that democratic rule in Israel is in grave danger, with only 30 percent subscribing to that opinion.

In contrast, more than two-thirds on the left (80 percent) and centre (74 percent) believe that the country’s democracy is in danger.

Coalition negotiations

The poll also found that most Israelis think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mishandled the coalition negotiations.

More than 60 percent of respondents said that Netanyahu’s negotiations were handled “not well” or “terribly”, with just one-third saying it was good or excellent. 

According to the poll, part of this negative view was that 62 percent of Israelis felt Netanyahu had made overly large concessions to his right-wing allies. 

A slim majority of Israelis, almost 52 percent, felt that the concessions Netanyahu made could damage the country’s standing in the international community, while 48 percent of Israelis thought the new coalition government would negatively undermine the civil status of Palestinian citizens of Israel. 

Earlier this week, the country’s recently appointed national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.

The move inflamed tensions in the occupied territories and brought international condemnation.

Who holds power in Israel

The poll also asked Israelis to assess the political influence of Israel’s different communities: ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians, women and the LGBTQ+ community.

More than 75 percent of respondents viewed the country’s ultra-Orthodox community as having outsized power relative to their share of the population. 

Following November’s election, the three partners in Netanyahu’s future coalition – the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Shas parties and the Religious Zionism alliance – cobbled together 32 seats between them, putting them on par with Netanyahu’s Likud party which also won 32 seats. 

In contrast, the majority of respondents viewed Palestinian citizens of Israel, women and the LGBTQ+ community as not having political power proportional to their share of the population. 

Recently an influential rabbi with close links to senior figures in Israel’s new government described the openly gay and newly appointed parliament speaker as “infected with disease”.

He suggested that the sexual orientation of Speaker Amir Ohana, who in 2019 became Israel’s first openly gay minister, was to blame for a crowd crush in 2021 that killed 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews during a religious festival in the northern town of Meron.


Israel: democracy [that is for Jews] is in ‘grave danger’ say 70% of left-wing Jews

Middle East Monitor  /  January 5, 2023

Seventy per cent of Israel’s dwindling secular liberal Jews believe that democracy in the country is in “grave danger”, a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly Israeli Voice Index has found. Of the total sampled in the poll, nearly half of Israelis, 49 per cent, share the alarmingly pessimistic view of secular Jews about the grave threat to democracy.

The most common opinion among Israeli citizens is that the formation of the new far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu will have a negative effect both on Israel’s international standing and on the civil status of Palestinian citizens of the apartheid state.

The first was highlighted by the recent postponement of a visit to the UAE by Netanyahu following the desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the extreme far-right Israeli minister who was convicted previously of supporting Jewish terrorist group Kach. Ben-Gvir is also known to idolize Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein who massacred 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers and wounded 125 others in Hebron’s Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in February 1994.

The survey was carried out against the backdrop of rising local and international concerns over the current far-right government. Questions were asked about street demonstrations in opposition to the government, emigration from Israel and people failing to show up for reserve duty with the Israel Defence Forces. The answers were split into three political blocs: left, centre and right.

The majority of respondents (64 per cent) think that there is a very high or fairly high likelihood of street protests. Regarding the possibility of increased emigration from Israel to other countries, a majority of those on the left (60 per cent) consider this to be likely, compared with less than half of those in the centre and just one-quarter of those on the right.

The percentage of Israelis who believe that there will be an increase in the number of people refusing to serve in the country’s occupation forces is high, with a quarter of those on the left saying that Israelis will refuse to serve and a further 27 per cent of those who classify themselves as centrist saying that this will be the case. The rise in dissent among Israeli soldiers is likely to see human rights groups like Breaking the Silence coming to greater prominence.

Regarding the expected effect on Israel’s standing in the international community, the differences between Jewish political camps are huge. On the left, 85 per cent expect it to worsen, as do 74 per cent of those in the centre. By contrast, only 36 per cent on the right think that Israel’s international standing will suffer as a result of the formation of the latest far-right Netanyahu government.