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Poll: Israelis are divided on legal reforms, pessimistic about the future

While most Israelis support Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state, there are deep disagreements on the definition of Jewish state

Israeli students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem attend a counter demonstration, in support of the current government's planned reforms, Jan. 16, 2022. (Photo: Yoantan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli society is deeply divided over the judicial reforms taking place in the Israeli government and over their rights, in general, according to a recently released annual poll, which also revealed deep divisions along ethnic, religious and political lines.

The Israeli Voice Index poll, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, showed the Israeli public to be  increasingly pessimistic about the future of the State of Israel. Only 49% of Israelis are optimistic about Israel’s future, according to the IDI poll results. By comparison, in 2012, 76% of Israelis expressed optimism about the future of the Jewish state. 

At the center of the discontent and disagreement are concerns over the balance of power between Israel’s judicial branch and parliament, its legislative branch. More than 80,000 Israelis protested against the Netanyahu government’s planned legal reforms at a rally in Tel Aviv. 

Some 51% of Israelis are currently concerned about the future of the country, and only 42% trust Israel’s High Court, signaling a dramatic decrease in trust for the country’s public institutions. 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who received a copy of the IDI report, said he was “deeply worried” about some of its findings. 

“These are unpleasant figures, coming on top of other sections of the report that reflect the internal tensions within us,” the president said. “In other words, our cohesion is being weakened, and we must do everything to rebuild it.” 

The Israeli presidency is largely devoid of political power. However, it serves as an important symbol of unity for the diverse Israeli society. Increasingly concerned about the political divisions, Herzog recently urged all sides to “lower the flames.” 

Yohanan Plesner, president of IDI and a former Knesset member, emerged as a vocal critic of the Netanyahu government’s judicial reforms, as presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin last week. Plesner believes the legal reforms do not have the support of the majority.

Levin is pushing to dramatically limit the Israeli legal system’s ability to oppose new laws that might harm the legal rights of Israeli citizens, especially for minority groups. His reforms also aim to strengthen politicians’ power to choose candidates for the bench. 

“The data … is clear: there is no majority for initiatives that seek to weaken the Supreme Court and diminish the judiciary,” Plesner said

He emphasized that the proposed reforms could undermine Israeli democracy. 

“The legislative package advanced by the justice minister will lead to a judiciary controlled by the executive branch, decimate the separation of powers in our democracy and prevent the Supreme Court from defending the rights of individual citizens,” Plesner warned in an official statement. 

Since its Declaration of Independence in May 1948, Israel has defined itself as a Jewish and democratic state. However, Israelis are increasingly divided on the balance between the “Jewish” and “democratic” elements of the state. 

“38% think that the Jewish element is too strong [down from 47% in 2019] and 25% say that the democratic elements are too strong [up from 18% in 2019]. Almost one-fifth [19%] say they don’t know,” the report stated. 

Politically conservative and religious Israeli Jews tend to prioritize the Jewish characteristic of the country over the democratic component. 

By contrast, left-leaning and centrist voters tend to prioritize the country’s democratic dimension. 

Arab Israelis, who constitute some 20% of Israel’s population, are increasingly opposed to the country defining itself as a Jewish state. 

While most Israelis still support Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state, there are deep disagreements on the definition of Jewish state. Modern Israelis mainly view the Jewish identity through a national and cultural lens. 

By contrast, political leaders from Israel’s rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community increasingly seek a greater role for Jewish religious practices in public life. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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