On May 10, 2006, the Israel Democracy Institute presented the Israeli Democracy Index 2006 to President Moshe Katzav, President of the State of Israel. Entitled Changes in Israel's Political Party System: Dealignment or Realignment?, this year's index delineates the gap between public interest in politics and the level of trust the public has in politicians and political parties. Once of its central findings is that only 22% of the public trusts political parties.
Produced by IDI's Guttman Center for Surveys, the annual Israeli Democracy Index is presented to the President of Israel at an annual conference. Participants in the 2006 conference included: IDI President Dr. Arye Carmon, Foreign Minister MK Tzipi Livni, Supreme Court President Justice Aharon Barak; Professor Michal Shamir of Tel Aviv University, Dr. Faisal Azaiza of the Jewish-Arab Center at the University of Haifa; Dr. Asher Cohen of Bar Ilan University; Political Correspondent Mr. Raviv Drucker, former MK Dr. Uzi Landau, and IDI Senior Fellow Prof. Asher Arian, head of IDI's Guttman Center, who presented the findings of the Index to President Katzav.
The gap between interest in politics and levels of participation and the ability to influence policy: Israelis are interested in politics, speak about it, and have more knowledge about politics than in the past. 73% of those surveyed show interest in politics. 82% stay updated on a daily basis or several times a week through television, radio, and newspapers. 67% speak to their friends and family members about political matters. These figures are higher than in 35 other Western democracies. Subsequently, it seems odd that the relationship between voters and their representatives can be seen as apathetic and distant from politics and political activity. Only 27% believe that they can influence government policy, and only 17% agree that politicians keep their promises after they are elected.
The public’s trust in politics: the level of trust Israeli citizens have in politicians has significantly decreased in the past few years. Only 17% of those surveyed agree or absolutely agree that elected politicians try to achieve what they had promised prior to being elected. 25% agree or absolutely agree that Knesset members care about what the general public thinks (21% are not sure). Only 22% of the public trust political parties, less than they trust any public institution in Israel (33% trust the Knesset, 44% trust the media, 68% trust the Supreme Court, and 79% trust the IDF).
Political corruption: 62% of the respondents are certain that there is much political corruption in Israel, and about half of those surveyed think that in order for candidates to reach a high political position in Israel, they must be corrupt. Only 10% maintain that those running the country look out for the public’s best interest.
Political corruption from a comparative perspective: Israel is ranked 20th out of 36 democracies (the lower the number, the lower the political corruption). This year, Transparency International’s ratings were considered, in which Israel received 6.3 out of 10 (as of October 2005). Finland and New Zealand share first place, with the least amount of political corruption, while Argentina and India are at the low end of the scale, with the highest levels of political corruption. Israel is placed between Estonia and Taiwan. It is interesting to see how Israel has gone down on the scale since 2003, when it came in 14th place, and 2004, when it was placed 17th, to the 20th place late in 2005. Only three years ago Germany shared the 14th place with Israel, yet is now placed 12th. This downward trend is worrisome for the State of Israel.
Political involvement: Only 6% of those surveyed are members of a political party. In contrast, 51% feel closer to a specific party. In addition, 61% agree that strong leaders are more useful to the country than any law or debate.
Ideological vagueness between the large parties: 56% are not at all certain that they will vote for the same party in the next elections. 36% are certain that the differences between the large parties are small or non-existent where issues of foreign affairs and national security are concerned. This is a significant rise since 1992 when only 13% thought that there are no differences between them.
Trust in government institutions: there had been a steep decline in the amount of trust the public has in the police force (66% in 2004, 57% in 2005, and 44% in 2006). It is important to note that this survey was taken early in February 2006, when the police force was in the middle of a political storm during the evacuation of Amona.
The disengagement plan: 82% of those surveyed are certain that there is no justification for using violence to achieve political goals. Conversely, there has been a decrease in the firm opposition to refusing military orders due to personal ethics or ideology, more specifically – refusing to obey orders to evacuate settlers. A mere 58% are against such a refusal, as opposed to 70% that opposed it last year.
The strength of and support for democracy: 85% are certain that democracy is the desirable regime for Israel (a rise of 5%), while 77% maintain that democracy is the best form of government in general.
Social and ideological rifts: respondents to the survey were asked about their views concerning the relationships between different groups in the population. 26% point to good relationships between religious and secular Jews, and only 14% hold that relations between Jews and Arabs are good. 29% think that a Jewish majority is required on decisions that determine the Israel’s fate, while 62% support the demand that the government encourage Arab emigration from the country.
Lowered satisfaction rates: Israeli citizens are less satisfied with Israel’s overall situation. 40% of those surveyed are certain that Israel’s overall situation is not good, and 74% assess that the way that the government dealt with problems is inadequate.
On an optimistic note: 86% are proud to be Israeli; 90% want to live in Israel in the long run, and 69% consider themselves a part of the State of Israel and its problems.
The 2006 Index, along with the low voter turnout for the last election, emphasizes the fact that Israeli citizens feel apathy towards the political party system. Old struggles between parties are seen as irrelevant, and few citizens maintain strong feelings of identification with any given party. Now more than ever, Israelis are very interested in politics, speak about politics, and stay informed, yet their level of political involvement has decreased. The source of this problem ranges from the low level of feeling that one has the ability to influence public policy, to worrying rates of political corruptness, and low levels of satisfaction from the government and the country’s leaders. All of these factors have apparently brought about a decrease in the voter turnout in the 2006 elections. The repercussions of these disconcerting trends on the legitimacy of the government and of democratic rule should raise serious concern not only among anyone who is involved in politics, but among us all.