Israelis of All Persuasions Feel They Suffer From Incitement, Poll Shows

From left to right, from Arabs to ultra-Orthodox Jews, all feel victimized ■ Just under half think there is a high probability for a political assassination

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man protests coronavirus lockdown rules, Jerusalem, July 10, 2020.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man protests coronavirus lockdown rules, Jerusalem, July 10, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Most leftists, right-wingers, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab Israelis believe they suffer incitement, with many people blaming the media as well as politicians, according to a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute and the World Zionist Organization.

The poll was conducted in the run-up to a conference Wednesday and Thursday marking the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

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The survey found that 86 percent of Jewish leftists, 81 percent of ultra-Orthodox Jews, 70 percent of Arab Israelis and 67 percent of Jewish right-wingers feel they suffer incitement.

According to the poll, the public in general blames the incitement on right-wing political leaders (31 percent) and the media (also 31 percent). The right wing blames the media (46 percent), followed by left-wing political leaders (21 percent).

Most of the ultra-Orthodox (75 percent) believe that the media is to blame, but Jews on the center and left, as well as Arab Israelis, feel that right-wing leaders are mainly to blame.

‘Unwillingness to do soul-searching’

Prof. Tamar Hermann, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a faculty member at the Open University, notes that only 10 percent of respondents see social media as the main source of incitement.

“The prevailing feeling among broad groups that they’re victims of incitement also constitutes an excuse or justification for their unwillingness to do some soul-searching regarding their own contribution to the unbridled discourse,” she said.

“If they’re being incited against, presumably they’re not to blame. That’s wrong, of course; people can incite against you while you’re both an inciter and to blame.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset, Jerusalem, October 13, 2020.Credit: Yaniv Nadav / Knesset

According to the survey, 70 percent of Israelis believe there is some form of incitement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Among Jews, 84 percent of right-wingers, 65 percent of centrists and 62 percent of leftists believe that the prime minister is a target of incitement, whether to a considerable or very great degree. Among Arab Israelis, 52 percent gave that response and ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, 85 percent.

According to 46 percent of the public, there is also incitement against Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s partner in the unity government.

Among Jews, 47 percent of right-wingers, 54 percent of centrists and 53 percent of leftists say Gantz is a target of incitement to a considerable or very great degree. Among Arab Israelis the figure is 44 percent, and among Haredim 24 percent.

'People on the defensive are likely to be more agressive'

The survey also found that about 45 percent of Israelis believe that there is a high probability of a political assassination in their country. Some 65 percent of Jews on the left fear that, compared with half of centrists, 41 percent of rightists, 30 percent of Arab Israelis and 29 percent of Haredim.

“That’s a dangerous situation. People who feel they’re victims of incitement and are constantly on the defensive are likely to be far more aggressive,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute.

“Then as now we sense polarization and division, which is reflected in violence on the streets, and there’s no question that the danger of a political assassination against demonstrators is concrete and real. In our current crisis situation, the political leadership must stop inciting and dividing and fulfill its responsibility to lower the flames.”

Dror Morag, head of the Department of Zionist Enterprises at the World Zionist Organization, added: “When the Israeli public loses confidence in the legal authorities, when the Israeli public believes that its political leadership bears the main responsibility for the incitement, when the Israeli public believes that political assassination is a matter of time, that’s a wake-up call for our leaders.”

Democracy and Zionism

The survey also examined perceptions of Zionism and democracy. Some 80 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that democracy is an essential component in the definition of Zionism as a national movement that supports the existence of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

This is the opinion of 84 percent of secular Jews, 81 percent of “nonobservant traditional Jews,” 76 percent of “observant traditional Jews,” 78 percent of religious-Zionists and 69 percent of Haredim.

In the Jewish community, 46 percent of people believe that the two definitions of the State of Israel, Jewish and democratic, are equally important, 30 percent believe that “Jewish” is more important and 22 percent believe that “democratic” is more important.

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh films Netanyahu with his phone camera during the Knesset discussion on the Likud's cameras bill, September 11, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The survey was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, with 511 people interviewed in Hebrew and 131 in Arabic, both on the internet and by phone.

The fieldwork was done by the Rafi Smith Institute under the direction of Rafi Smith. In the survey, the sampling error was 4.03 percent with a confidence level of 95 percent.

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