The 2008 Israeli Democracy Index: Between the State and Civil Society

Auditing Israeli Democracy

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  • Cover Type: Softcover
  • Number Of Pages: 135 Pages
  • Center: The Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research
  • Price: 80 NIS

The findings of the 2008 Israeli Democracy Index indicate that despite the continuous decline in satisfaction with the status of the rule of law, public service, and political leadership, the Israeli public nonetheless expects the State to set the course in social, economic, and policy matters, as well as to provide necessary social services.

According to the findings of the Democracy Index, the Israeli public continues to show interest in politics and feels a sense of belonging to the state. At the same time, however, the level of trust in decision-makers is at its lowest since the surveys were begun. In this context, one can explain the emergence of strong negative feelings toward politics, politicians, and political parties. As a result, the political involvement of citizens and their belief that elected officials are representing them properly have eroded considerably. The same anti-political phenomenon is also spurring support for solutions for the management of the state and society that are not necessarily democratic, as well as a strong reliance on civil society organizations.

The public is also frustrated by the reduction of the extent of the state's involvement in, and its shirking of responsibility for, the economic and social welfare of its citizens. The public is aware that the state's place has been taken, in many cases, by civil society and its many non-governmental organizations which deal with a wide spectrum of issues, from advancing social justice, civil rights, and environmental quality, to food distribution and health services. Civil society and the vital services it provides are appreciated by the public, but they are not viewed as a permanent substitute of equal standing for social services provided by the state, but rather as default or interim services. According to the Democracy Index, a strong call can be heard on the part of the public for the government to improve its functioning and to resume its central role in the political-social-economic arena.

The Democracy Index is presented today to the President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres. It was prepared by the Israel Democracy Institute's Guttman Center by Prof. Asher Arian, Prof. Tamar Hermann, Nir Atmor, Yael Hadar, Yuval Lebel, and Hila Zaban, and is based on international comparative measures and on an analysis of the perception of democracy as reflected in public opinion polls. The Index presents findings of a public opinion poll, representative of the adult population in Israel, with 1,201 respondents taking part in one of three languages, Hebrew, Arabic or Russian (maximum sample error margin: ±2.8%).

  • Safeguarding democracy: For the first time in many years, respondents do not consider the Supreme Court as the “institution which best safeguards Israeli democracy” (35%). This year, it is the media which wins the top slot  at 36% as the institution that the public believes best safeguards Israeli democracy. For the first time too, major changes are seen in the third and fourth slots, with the Knesset ranking third (16%) and the Prime Minister fourth (13%).
  • Trust in institutions: The public’s trust in the Supreme Court fell by 12 percentage points: 49% this year as compared with 61% in 2007. This is a dramatic decrease. Only 36% of the public have trust in the Attorney General, while 64% do not. The IDF heads the list of institutions which the public trusts the most, at 71% —a decline of 3 percentage points compared with 2007. Trust in the President of the State rose from 22% to 47%. Trust in the police fell substantially from 41% to 33%, and in the Knesset from 33% to 29%. The Prime Minister receives an expression of trust of only 17%, while political parties are at the bottom of the list with a rating of 15%. The media—which is viewed as the institution that best safeguards Israeli democracy--received 37%, representing a drop of 8 percentage points compared with 2007. Most of these findings highlight the serious flaws in the functioning of the Israeli political system and point to anti-political trends.
  • Interest in politics: Only 43% of respondents acknowledge that they discuss political issues with their friends or family members; only about 60% say that they are interested in politics — representing a dramatic fall compared with 2006, when 73% said they were interested in political issues. Seventy-three percent of respondents would not advise friends or family members to enter politics; this should be viewed against the backdrop of 68% of respondents who believe that politicians do not take into account the opinion of the man in the street.
  • Corruption: Ninety percent of respondents believe that Israel is tainted with corruption — 60% believe that the level of corruption is very high, while 30% believe that it is quite high. In contrast, only 9% believe that there is very little corruption in Israel, and just 1% believe that there is no corruption at all. More than half of the respondents (51%) believe that corruption is necessary in order to reach the top echelons of Israeli politics today.
  • International comparison: Israel receives better evaluations from international research institutes compared with previous years. Nevertheless, there is no change in Israel’s ranking among a sample of 36 countries, and in certain cases, its ranking has fallen. In other words, despite the relative improvement in Israel’s scores in certain categories, the situation of other countries has improved more and, relative to them, Israel’s ranking has fallen.

Civil Society

  •  Fifty-seven percent of respondents believe that the quality of services provided by civil organizations is better than that provided by the state. Nevertheless, the majority of citizens is still interested in receiving the services they need from the state rather than from civil society organizations: 53% of respondents agree with the statement that it is preferable for the state to continue its previous level of involvement in social and economic domains, while 28% prefer to see a reduction in state involvement in these domains; 46% prefer to receive services from state organizations, while 29% prefer to receive services from social organizations. The public believes that its elected representatives are concerned, first and foremost, with the furthering of their private interests and are not attuned to the wishes and needs of the voters. This is a dangerous situation for democracy. Should these trends continue, the involvement of citizens with the political system will gradually decrease, as distrust and alienation increase. This might irrevocably erode the legitimacy of representative democracy in Israel.
  • Satisfaction with the functioning of Israeli democracy: The public’s level of satisfaction with the functioning of Israeli democracy has risen: 43% expressed satisfaction, compared with 34% who expressed satisfaction in the 2007 democracy survey. The 2008 democracy survey also shows that the majority of citizens are very proud to be Israeli (80%), and many of them (83%) are certain that they want to continue living in Israel in the long term. It should be pointed out that these findings primarily attest to an emotional loyalty to the state and homeland, and less to respondents’ feelings about the present situation.
    Israeli democracy is still fragile and needs nurturing, particularly in view of the governance crisis and the trend toward alienation from politics, which are prominent in the 2008 Democracy Index.