Israeli Voice Index

Overwhelming Majority of Jewish and Arab Israelis: The Release of all Hostages is a Goal of Importance

War in Gaza Survey 5 (November 19–20, 2023)

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IDI's fifth War in Gaza survey finds that among Jewish Israelis, toppling Hamas and releasing the hostages are pivotal war-goals. The majority of respondents do not think that the government currently has a clear action for the day after the fighting ends, and there is rising support (56%) for an amendment to the Nation-State Law, to safeguard equality for non-Jewish citizens.

Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The survey was conducted by the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute. Data collection was carried out between November 19–20, 2023, with 518 men and women interviewed via the internet and by telephone in Hebrew and 106 in Arabic. The maximum sampling error was ±4.00% at a confidence level of 95%. Field work was carried out by the Lazar Research Institute headed by Dr. Menachem Lazar.

Topics covered in this report:

  • The goals of the war
  • The government’s plan for Gaza when the war ends
  • The northern front
  • Israel’s relations with the United States
  • Performance ratings for civilian agencies during the war
  • Issuing firearms to civilians
  • Amending the Nation-State Law
  • The return of the judicial reforms?


Ranking the Goals of the War

We presented our respondents with four goals for the war which have been discussed in different contexts since it began: toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza and destroying its political and military infrastructures; releasing all the hostages; restoring Israeli deterrence in the region; and distancing all Gaza residents from the border with Israel by creating a security buffer zone between Gaza and Israel. All four of these goals were rated as important by large and similar shares of Jewish respondents, with toppling Hamas at the very top. The differences between political camps on this question were found to be very small.

All four goals were rated as less important by Arab respondents, with the two leading goals considered to be releasing all the hostages and restoring deterrence.

On a scale from 1 = not at all important to 5 = very important, rate the importance of each of the following goals for the war as 4 or 5 (Jewish sample and Arab sample; %)

However, when we asked which of these goals is the most important, the distribution of responses in the Jewish sample was very clear: First, releasing all the hostages, followed by toppling Hamas, restoring deterrence, and creating a security buffer zone.

And of all the above goals, which do you think is the most important? (Total sample; %)

Breaking down responses to this question in the Jewish sample by political orientation reveals only small differences, with the order of importance identical on the Left, Center, and Right. However, the largest discrepancy (10 percentage points) was found regarding the release of all the hostages: 55% of those on the Left and in the Center rank this goal highest, compared with 45% of those on the Right.

For Arab respondents, the most important goal is releasing all the hostages (50%), followed by restoring Israel’s deterrence (21%). Only 8% ranked toppling Hamas highest, and even fewer (6%) cited creating a security buffer zone.

Is There a Plan of Action for the Day After?

The majority of all respondents think that the government does not currently have a clear plan of action for the day after the fighting in Gaza ends.  Segmentation by political orientation (Jews) shows that nearly everyone on the Left believes the government does not have a clear plan of action, as well as two-thirds in the Center. This is also the position of more than half of those on the Right.

A Second Front in the North?

When we asked a month ago (October 18–19) about how Israel should respond to Hezbollah attacks in the north, almost identical shares of respondents said that Israel should immediately strike at Hezbollah to prevent events similar to those seen in the south (43%) and that Israel should refrain from opening another front (41.5%). Now, though, more than half believe that Israel should strike at Hezbollah (52%), while only just over a third (35%) say that Israel should exercise restraint on the northern front. The bulk of the change in views is found among Jewish respondents, with the share of those in favor of opening a second front having risen from one-half a month ago to almost 60% today. 

What should the State of Israel do in response to the attacks by Hezbollah? (Jewish sample and Arab sample; %)

A breakdown of responses in the Jewish sample by political orientation reveals that most of the rise in support for attacking now comes from those on the Left (up from 16% a month ago to 35% today) and in the Center (up from 38% to 55%). Support for striking at Hezbollah remains strongest among those on the Right (61% a month ago and 66% today).

US-Israeli Relations

We asked: “Since the outbreak of the war, the United States and President Biden have stood beside Israel in every respect—militarily, diplomatically, and more. There are now signs that the United States also has demands of Israel which are not always acceptable to the Israeli leadership, such as agreeing to a humanitarian ceasefire. In your opinion, what should Israel do?” Opinions in the total sample are evenly split: 44% think that Israel should coordinate its actions with the United States, while 45% hold that it should act only in accordance with the judgement of Israel’s leadership.

A breakdown of responses in the Jewish sample by political orientation finds large differences: Around two-thirds of those on the Left are in favor of coordination with the Americans, compared with just over half of those in the Center and less than a third of those on the Right. On the Right, the majority of respondents support acting in accordance with the considerations of Israel’s leadership, a view held by around a third of those in the Center and a quarter of those on the Left.

What should the government do in response to demands from the United States? (Jewish sample; %)

A large majority of Arab respondents (69%, compared with just 39% of Jews) are in favor of coordination with the United States, presumably in the hope that the US administration will act as a moderating influence on the decisions of the Israeli leadership.

Performance Ratings for Civilian Agencies During the War

In this survey, we examined the public’s assessment of four agencies which are currently extremely active in handling civilian affairs: the National Insurance Institute, the state education system, the Brothers in Arms civilian logistics center, and the state institutions handling the evacuees from the south and the north of the country.

The share of respondents who chose the “don’t know” option was highest for the civilian logistics center (at 21%, compared with 17% who gave that response for the National Insurance Institute, 9% for the education system, and 6.5% for the treatment of the evacuees). Despite this, the logistics center—operated by Brothers in Arms, an organization that previously played a major role in the protests against the government’s judicial reforms—also received the highest share of positive assessments for its functioning during the war (51%). The lowest share of positive assessments was received by the state institutions responsible for handling the evacuees (26%). In between are the National Insurance Institute (35%) and the education system (30%). It should be noted that we asked about the functioning of the education system a month ago, when 26% of the respondents graded it positively. That is, though schooling has returned to the regular schedule in large parts of the country, the education system has not significantly improved its functioning in the eyes of the public.

Performance ratings for each of the following agencies (total sample; %)

In the Jewish sample, very large differences were found between the different political camps. Those on the Right have a more positive assessment of these bodies than those on the Left and in the Center, with the exception of the civilian logistics center, presumably because it is operated by Brothers in Arms. Still, among respondents on the Right, it was rated more highly than any of the other agencies we asked about (50%).

There were small differences between the shares of Jewish and Arab respondents who gave positive assessments (5–7 percentage points), with the exception of the civilian logistics center – presumably because it is less well known to the Arab public, or perhaps because “Brothers in Arms” is closely associated by the Arab public with service in the IDF (Jews, 57%; Arabs, 18.5%).

Issuing Firearms to Civilians

Since the outbreak of the war, around 8,000 firearms have been issued to civilian defense squads throughout the country in order to improve readiness to respond to terrorism, and the criteria for being issued a firearm have been relaxed. There are concerns that this increase in the availability of firearms will lead to a rise in cases of domestic violence, or that weapons will end up in the hands of criminal organizations.

When asked about this issue, one-half of the Jewish respondents said that the policy of issuing firearms using the new criteria should be maintained, a view held by only a tiny minority of Arab respondents (5.5%). The most common answer among Arabs (45%) is that the criteria for issuing firearms should be more stringent (Jews: 33%) Conversely, while only 8% of Jews say that the issuing of firearms should be halted, this was the response of 34% of Arabs. On the Left (in the Jewish sample), a similar share (32%) support halting the distribution of firearms, compared with very small minorities in the Center (9%) and on the Right (3%). We also found a degree of difference in the Jewish sample on the basis of gender, with men more in favor of issuing firearms than women (56% versus 46%, respectively).

What should the policy on issuing firearms to civilians be from this point on? (Jewish sample and Arab sample; %)

Amending the Nation-State Law

Around a year ago, less than half the Jewish respondents supported amending the Nation-State Law by adding a clause to safeguard the equality of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. Today, seemingly due to the considerable number of Druze and Bedouin Israelis who have been killed and wounded since the beginning of the war, more than half are in favor of such an amendment. Support for this step has risen across all three political camps (in the Jewish sample), and indeed has doubled on the Right, though it remains lower there than on the Left and in the Center.

Agree that the Nation-State Law should be amended so that it includes the principle of full equality for non-Jewish citizens of the state (total sample, and Jewish sample by political orientation; %)

A breakdown of responses in the Jewish sample by religiosity reveals that only a small minority of Haredim support amending the Nation-State Law (13%), as do minorities of national religious (30.5%) and traditional religious (41%) respondents. Those in favor constitute more than half of traditional non-religious respondents (54%) and a sizable majority of secular respondents (68%).

Return of the Judicial Reforms?

We asked: “At the beginning of the war, the prime minister promised that the judicial reforms would not be advanced, which was also the basis on which the National Unity party joined the emergency government. In recent days, it has appeared that Minister of Justice Levin is continuing to advance some of those reforms. In your opinion, what should Prime Minister Netanyahu do?” The majority of respondents think that the prime minister should intervene and bring a halt to Levin’s efforts, while one-quarter believe he should not interfere.

An overwhelming majority of those on the Left and Center stated that the prime minister should halt the advancing of the reforms, while the Right is divided on the issue.

What should the prime minister do in response to the advancement of the judicial reforms by Justice Minister Levin? (total sample; and Jewish sample by political orientation, %)

As is well known, halting the judicial reforms was one of the conditions for the entry of the National Unity party to the emergency government. We asked what the party leader, Benny Gantz, should do if the reforms are advanced despite this agreement. Half the respondents think that the party should remain in the government and the war cabinet. We found large differences in the Jewish sample between political camps, with two-thirds of those on the Right saying that the party should remain in the war cabinet and the government, a majority of those on the Left saying that the party should resign from the government if the reforms are advanced, and those in the Center divided – 45% support remaining and 40% support resigning.

National Unity voters themselves are also divided on this question: 48% say that if the reforms are moved forward, then the party should leave the war cabinet and the government, while 40% believe it should remain. Among Likud voters, almost two-thirds (64%) think that National Unity should stay in the government and the war cabinet, while only 13% think it should resign.

And what should the leader of the National Unity party, Benny Gantz, do if the judicial reforms are advanced during the war? (total sample, and Jewish sample by political orientation; %)