The 2009 Israeli Democracy Index: Twenty Years of Immigration from the Soviet Union

Auditing Israeli Democracy

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  • Cover Type: Softcover
  • Number Of Pages: 140 Pages
  • Center: Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research
  • Price: 80 NIS

The 2009 Israeli Democracy Index focuses on the integration of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union into Israeli society and politics, twenty years after their arrival. The Index looks at their political culture and their relationship with the society absorbing them.

Now, after 20 years of immigration from the Former Soviet Union, the 2009 Democracy Index focuses on an assessment of the way in which the immigrants have integrated politically, socially and economically into Israeli society. The data, researched and compiled by IDI's Prof. Asher Arian, Michael Philipov and Anna Kanfelman, shows that despite the prevailing view that, at least politically, the "Russians" have integrated into Israeli society, they feel that they have little influence over their environment, even 20 years after the start of the Russian aliya. Many immigrants continue to express opinions that are reminiscent of political attitudes and behavior under the Soviet regime, which testifies to minimal absorption of the substance of Israeli democracy and poor political integration. It also appears that immigrants from the FSU are generally in lower spirits, the problems they face are more acute, and their reactions are sharper. By comparison with the veteran Jewish sector, the immigrant sector expresses greater concern with security problems, is less sure of its desire to live in Israel, and is not certain that it wants to raise children in Israel.

The Index also shows that 61% of the general public is not satisfied with the way Israeli democracy functions; that trust in the police has crashed to 40%; while trust in the Israel Defense Force has risen to 79%; and confidence in the Supreme Court has strengthened to 57% as compared to 49% in the 2008 Index.

The survey was held in March 2009, among a representative sample of the adult Israeli population. The sample was carried out by Mahshov, and included 1,191 respondents, interviewed in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. Sampling error was 2.8%.

  • 61% of the Israeli public are not satisfied with the way in which Israeli democracy functions. 28% feel that there is too much democracy in Israel, 35% feel that Israel is democratic to the right degree, and 37% feel that democracy in Israel is insufficient.
  • Around half of the public feel that they are unable to influence government policy, but almost 80% feel that they are able to change things in different frameworks in which they live, work or study. It should be emphasized that among immigrants the sense of influence is the lowest, with more than 40% of them feeling that they have no ability to change things within any of these frameworks.
  • The Israeli public believes in freedom of expression as a general value, but for the most part refuses to allow harsh criticism to be expressed against the state. 74% support "Freedom of expression for everyone, regardless of their opinions." However, 58% agree that "political speech should not be permitted to express harsh criticism of the state of Israel." This is a significant increase as compared to 48% in 2003.
  • 53% of the Jewish public supports encouraging Arabs to emigrate from Israel. 77% of immigrants support this idea, compared with 47% of the veteran public. 33% of veteran Jews are accepting of the inclusion of Arab parties in the government, by comparison with 23% of immigrants. Only 27% of respondents objected to the statement that there should be "a Jewish majority in decisions relating to the fate of the country," by comparison with 2003, when 38% objected to this statement. These figures indicate relatively broad support for decreasing the political rights of Israel's Arab minority.
  • 54% of the general public (Jews and Arabs) agrees that "only citizens who are loyal to the state are entitled to benefit from civil rights" (56% of the veterans, 67% of immigrants and 30% of the Arabs). 38% of the entire Jewish public believe that Jewish citizens should have more rights than non-Jewish citizens (43% of the veterans hold this belief, versus 23% of immigrants). In addition, 41% of veteran Jews are of the opinion that "Israeli Arabs face greater discrimination than Jewish Israelis," compared to 28% of immigrants holding this view.
  • Strong leader: 61% of the public supports the idea that "a number of strong leaders could benefit the state more than all the discussions and laws," while among the immigrants, 74% support this statement. It should be emphasized that the disparities between the attitudes of the immigrants and those of veteran Israelis on the subject of strong leaders have remained constant since 2003. In addition, support among the immigrant public for "the rule of experts," professionals in different fields making decisions regardless of public preference and purely on the basis of professional considerations, is particularly high. Immigrant support for this position is a high 72%, as compared to with 55% of the veteran Jewish public.
  • 68% of veteran Jews feel that the Jewishness of the majority of immigrants from the FSU is dubious, while 69% are opposed to members of their family marrying non-Jewish Israelis of Russian origin.
  • Public trust: The IDF is the institution that enjoys the highest level of public trust - increasing by 9% since the 2008 Index. Trust in the president rose to 60% as compared to 47% in 2008, and 22% in 2007, when President Shimon Peres replaced Moshe Katzav. Trust in the Supreme Court has grown stronger this year, up from 49% in 2008 to 57% in 2009. There is increasing trust in political parties, up from 15% in 2000 to 21% in 2009. On the other hand, trust in the police has decreased, now standing at 40%, a 20% decrease from 2003 when the police enjoyed 60% trust. An international comparison also paints a troubling picture: trust in the police is low in comparison with other democracies. Israel places 21st out of 24 countries, between Romania and Taiwan, with regard to public trust in the police.
  • Gender: 67% objected to the statement that "men are more successful political leaders than women," however 53% of the ultra-Orthodox population and 50% of the immigrants from the FSU supported it. This is an increase in comparison to last year, when 41% of immigrants supported the statement. 9% of the secular public, 17% of traditionalists and 36% of the religious public agree that "it would be good if the man went out to work and the woman looked after the home," as compared to 44% of 'secular' immigrants from the FSU. An analysis of the general public shows that 26% agree with the aforementioned statement, compared to 46% of immigrants and 24% of Arabs.
  • The use of violence: 33% of immigrants from the FSU think that political violence is legitimate, as compared to 35% of Israeli Arabs and 22% of veteran Israelis. Among the general public, the greatest legitimacy is given to the use of political violence by young people aged 18 to 30, at 27%.
  • Evacuating settlements: 48% of Israelis are not prepared to evacuate any settlements within the framework of a permanent agreement; 37% are prepared for the evacuation of isolated settlements; and 15% are prepared to evacuate all the settlements over the green line. The position of the immigrants from the FSU is more hawkish than that of the general Jewish public: 64% are not prepared for settlements to be evacuated in the framework of a permanent agreement; 30% are prepared for the evacuation of isolated settlements; and 6% are prepared to evacuate all the settlements.
  • Corruption: 89% of the general public is of the opinion that there is corruption in Israel. 50% feel that politicians are in politics solely for personal gain. Feelings differ within the Arab sector - 66% tend to disagree with the statement that politicians are out solely for personal gain, with only 22% of Arab citizens of Israel agreeing with the claim that "to reach the top in politics you have to be corrupt." Immigrants from the FSU are the most pessimistic with regard to the political ethics: 47% agree with the claim that "to reach the top in politics you have to be corrupt," as compared to 39% among veteran Jews.

Political interest:

  • There is a decrease in the Israeli public's interest in politics: in 2003, 76% of Israelis expressed a considerable or certain degree of interest in politics, compared with 73% in 2006 and 66% in 2009. Arab citizens of Israel are the most detached from Israeli politics, with only 39% of them expressing any political interest.
  • In the past six years, the degree of interest in politics among young people has dropped by 18%, down to only 50% this year. At the same time, 78% of respondents keep up-to-date with political affairs every day or a few times a week. It should be noted that the rate of those who "keep up-to-date" with politics is considerably greater than those who "take an interest" in politics.

Desire to live in Israel:

  • In the 31-40 age group (parents of children up to the age of 18), 80% of veteran Israelis are certain that they want to bring up their children in Israel, compared to only 28% of immigrants from the FSU. 92% of the veterans have some degree of desire to see their "children or grandchildren live in Israel", as compared to 74% of immigrants. In light of the weight that the immigrant population gives to security issues, it is possible that one of the explanations for these findings is that more than half of the immigrants from the FSU live in peripheral settlements in the north and south, which have suffered from an insecure security situation and have lived under considerable threat in recent years.
  • Only 50% of immigrants aged 18 to 30 are certain that they want to live in Israel, by comparison with 77% of veteran Israelis in this age bracket. In the older age group, the percentage of immigrants wanting to live in Israel is comparable to that of veteran Israelis.
  • Among immigrants from the FSU, there is a significant reduction in the percentage of people who are certain that they want to live in Israel. This trend is particularly notable among young people, with only 48% of immigrants up to the age of 40 being certain that they want to live here (as compared to 59% in 2007). A decrease in the desire to live in Israel was also characteristic of young veteran Israelis at the end of the Second Lebanon War, but this group has seen an impressive recovery, and as of 2009 the level has returned to pre-2006 figures (80%). Both immigrants and veterans site security and economic conditions as the primary reasons that they would leave the country, although 81% of immigrants-as opposed to 59% of veteran Israelis-claim that the security situation is the main reason for wanting to leave Israel.
  • Only 28% of immigrants from the FSU affirm that their pre-immigration aspirations have been fulfilled in Israel to a considerable degree. It should be emphasized that the opinions of young people are similar, in most cases, to those of adult immigrants. The immigrant public appears to be very pessimistic, relative to the veteran Jews and the Arabs, and only a minority of immigrants believe that their standard of living will improve in the future. 54% of immigrants feel that their level of education is higher than the demands of their job ("over qualified"), as opposed to only 24% among the veteran Jewish population. Young immigrants feel this disparity to the highest degree.

Important Statistical Findings:

  • Approximately half of Israelis feel that the important condition for being "really Israeli" is to be born in Israel.
  • 77% of immigrants to Israel would encourage Arab emigration from Israel, as compared with 47% of the veteran Jewish population.
  • The degree of public trust in the institution of the presidency has increased threefold since President Shimon Peres took office.