Auditing Israeli Democracy 2003

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  • Cover Type: Softcover | Hebrew
  • Number Of Pages: 27 Pages
  • Center: The Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research
  • Price: 150 NIS

Does the Israeli regime realize democratic values and objectives? Is Israel's democracy a good democracy? This publication evaluates the quality and functioning of Israeli democracy through quantifiable data and comparative research. 

Auditing Israeli Democracy, the first study of its kind in Israel, focuses on the extent to which the Israeli regime actually realizes democratic values and objectives, and examines the quality and functioning of Israeli democracy. The study explores the condition of democracy in Israel in 1992–2003 and compares it with 35 other democratic countries.
Democracy is a complex phenomenon, with many facets and levels. To examine democracy, one must relate to all of its interconnected components. The examination of the state of democracy in Israel in this volume relates both to its formal and qualitative aspects.

This book was guided by a belief in the importance of democracy and in Israel’s ability to develop beyond the formal framework into a substantive and stable democracy. The research was conducted on two levels. The first involved examining the state of democracy in Israel through a series of quantitative measures based on existing databases and work by international experts in a variety of fields. The second evaluated the state of democracy in Israel as reflected in public opinion, in order to assess public attitudes towards a variety of democratic values and how democracy functions in Israel. As a result, the work offers readers a varied and rich picture.

As expressed in these metrics, Israeli democracy is primarily a formal democracy that has yet to take on the traits of a substantive democracy. It suffers from a great deal of instability, as compared to other democracies and other periods. On an institutional level, the situation in Israel is better than that in other democracies, but the picture is worrisome when it comes to rights and to stability. In a number of metrics, there has been a regression in the state of democracy over the past decade, while in others, there was no improvement. In several areas, however, Israel made progress.

Israeli democracy is fluid and requires a great deal of attention and cultivation. We view this project as one step in addressing the weak points of our democracy, in order to maintain, strengthen, and improve it.

Auditing Israeli Democracy 2003 evaluates the quality and functioning of Israeli democracy by collecting quantified and comparable information that is comprehensive, precise, clear, reliable, and valid. This is the first report of the project; the plan is to conduct periodical evaluations of the state of Israeli democracy and to present the findings to the public in order to promote informed public discourse regarding the state of Israeli democracy that will lead to its improvement.

Auditing Israeli Democracy 2003 was conducted on two levels: first, an examination of the state of Israeli democracy in terms of a series of indicators that measured the central aspects of the concept of democracy; second, an analysis of the state of democracy in Israel as it was reflected in public opinion. The public opinion survey's explicit goal was to examine the extent that democratic political culture has struck roots in Israel, and to assess the public’s perception of how Israeli democracy functions. The intention was to examine the relation between the two and to assess the disparity between the state of Israeli democracy according to the various indicators and the way the Israeli public perceives the state of democracy. In both categories—the indicators and the public opinion survey—Israel's status was examined from a comparative perspective. The analysis of the state of Israeli democracy was thus conducted on two comparative dimensions: Israel's situation compared to that of thirty-five other democracies in the world, and Israel's internal situation, as measured over the previous decade (1992-2003).[1] Where available, data from as far back as 1969 was included in the public opinion category.

The project is based on the assumption that democracy is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Accordingly, the Democracy Index encompassed three main aspects: the institutional aspect, the rights aspect, and the aspect of stability and social cohesion. Addressing the formal and substantive sides of democracy respectively, the institutional aspect and the rights aspect were meant to include the content embedded in the concept of democracy. The third aspect, stability, is a characteristic of governments in general, not only of democratic regimes. Nonetheless, it seemed right to include it since its existence or absence influences the quality and functioning of democracy.

Each of these three aspects includes several characteristics that are important to a democratic regime. The institutional aspect included five  such characteristics: accountability, representativeness, participation, checks and balances, and governmental integrity (corruption). The rights aspect included six characteristics: civil rights, political rights, social rights, economic (property) rights, gender equality and equality for minorities. The stability aspect included three characteristics: stability of the government, the absence of political conflict, and the absence of social rifts. Each characteristic was examined by means of multiple (usually two) indicators, so that the research project included a total of thirty-one indicators of the state of Israeli democracy. Thus, it can indeed be analyzed as a multi-dimensional phenomenon.

A representative sample of 1,208 respondents of the adult population in Israel (Jews and Arabs) was interviewed in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian in April 2003. Respondents were asked to what extent, in their opinion, each of the aforementioned characteristics was in fact realized in Israel. Regarding the characteristics that comprised the rights aspect, which express the substantive side of democracy, the degree of support for those values was also measured in order to assess the depth of democratic culture in Israel. The public opinion data for comparison among other countries were taken from reports in the professional literature.

In comparison with democracies elsewhere in the world, Israel’s situation ought to arouse concern among proponents of democracy. Although its relative position in the institutional aspect is in general good, even this aspect is not without its problems: voter turnout is decreasing, and belief in the integrity of government has diminished somewhat. Israel’s problematic area is concentrated in the rights aspect: freedom of the press is low, infringement of human rights is high (the evaluation includes the territories of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip). The percentage of incarcerated criminals is mounting, inequality in distribution of income is rising, and the inequality between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority remains unchanged. Moreover it is apparent that comparatively, Israel suffers from instability. In sum, from the relative ranking across all the indicators, Israel may be classified as a formal democracy that has not yet succeeded in incorporating the characteristics of substantive democracy.

The Democracy Survey looked at public opinion regarding three different levels of democratic norms: the first, and most abstract level—general support for the democratic system (for example, the degree of agreement or disagreement with the claim that "a democratic regime is desirable for Israel"); the second level—support for values and specific democratic principles (for example, the degree of agreement or disagreement with the statement, "I support freedom of expression for everyone irrespective of their opinions"); and the third, and most specific level—public opinion on equal rights for the Arab minority in Israel (for example, the degree of support or opposition to Arab parties joining the government, including having Arab ministers).

In every one of the above-mentioned levels, there has been a significant decline over the last few years in the rate of support for democratic norms by the Jewish Israeli public. For the most abstract norm—general support for the democratic system—the survey revealed that the assertion that democracy is the best form of government received the least public support in twenty years, with 77% of Jewish citizens in Israel agreeing with this position.

In 2003, there was a significant gnawing away of support among the Jewish public for democratic values (and it has dropped by an average of 15% compared to the rate of support at the turn of the century). In some cases, a decline in support was already apparent in 2001, following the outbreak of the second Intifada, and in other instances the decline was slower. However, in all instances the current study indicates that the decline in the rate of support for democratic values is the lowest in a decade.

The findings arising from an analysis of the third normative level–public opinion on equal rights for the Arab minority in Israel—is particularly worrisome. While the first two levels registered a decline in the degree of support for democratic norms, a majority of the Jewish public in Israel supported democratic values and the democratic system. This is not the case where public opinion on equality for the Arab minority was concerned. In 2003, more than half the Jewish citizens opposed full equal rights for both Jewish and Arab citizens of the State, 77% maintained that there must be a Jewish majority on all fateful decisions concerning the State, and more than half the population maintained that the government ought to encourage Arab emigration.

Other measures of democratic orientation, such as trust in institutions, social cohesion, and a desire for strong leaders, are also presented.

Israeli democracy is fragile and changing, and demands constant attention. The purpose of the project and of this volume is to encourage further discourse, analysis, and research regarding Israeli democracy in order to promote that much-needed nurturing.


[1] The states participating in the project for which comparative data were gathered ,were Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.