Israel's Social Cohesion Among Lowest in Western World, Report Finds

Israel's low standing stems from a lack of tolerance and lack of faith in political and social institutions.

The level of social cohesion in Israel is among the lowest in the Western world, according to a report released Tuesday by the Bertelsmann Foundation and Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.

The Social Cohesion Radar report examines the phenomenon in 34 countries in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development over a span of 25 years. Israel ranks 28th on the list, ahead of Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania.

Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden – topped the list followed by New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

The report's authors define social cohesion as how members of a community live and work together. A cohesive society is characterized by resilient social relationships, positive ties and emotional attachment between members and the community, and a focus on the common good. The report splits each of these three traits into three measurable components; it also takes into account a broad range of indicators from comparative international studies and other scientific data.

The main reason for Israel's low standing is a lack of tolerance, lack of faith in political and social institutions, and a very low perception of fairness on the part of the Israeli public. The report, which is broken down four groupings of several years apiece, also found a sudden drop among Israelis in respect for social rules in the most recent period – 2009 to 2012 – and continued lack of interest in social and civic participation.

Israel did, however, achieve a higher than average grade in the category of social networks measuring the quality and quantity of social ties. Another category where the country did well, particularly in the latest time period, is national identification – where it ranks in among the top countries.

According to the study, three conditions contribute to strong social cohesion: economic prosperity, a fair distribution of income, and technological progress that drives a culture toward becoming a knowledgeable society. It found a positive correlation between a country's wealth – measured by gross national product – and social cohesion. The report also identified a link between a high level of income inequality based on the Gini index and weak social cohesion.

The report concluded that modernization doesn't have a negative effect on social cohesion, and found that the most innovative societies also enjoy a higher degree of social cohesion. In addition, immigration and globalization don't undermine social cohesion, the report determined.

The study also reinforced the notion that individuals in societies with greater cohesion view themselves as being healthy and well-off.

Most Western European countries – Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Britain, France, and Spain – showed higher than average levels of social cohesion.

Norway and Sweden, which ranked second and fourth overall, respectively, came out on top in nearly every category except national identity, where they were average. Germany, Holland, and Britain, which also ranked high, also registered a low level of national identification.

At the lower end of the scale, countries like Portugal and Romania won relatively high marks for tolerance. Other bottom-ranking countries like Cyprus and Greece, which are in the throes of deep financial crises, boast strong national identity despite low overall levels of cohesion.
 

Ofer Vaknin
Michal Fattal