Poll: Two-thirds of Israelis Back New Social Protests

Socioeconomic priorities top security, foreign affairs, according to Israel Democracy Institute’s 2014 index.

Oren Ziv

Nearly two-thirds of Israelis think it is high time for people to take to the streets to demand social justice, as they did in the summer of 2011, according to a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute released on Sunday.

Sparked by a hike in the price of cottage cheese, the protests brought hundreds of thousands to mass demonstrations and tent encampments, prompting the government to unveil a host of the economic reforms. But the protests fizzled out after several weeks, and repeated efforts to revive them have failed.

While 34.5% of respondents identified themselves as social democrats, compared to just 18.6% who said they favored a free-market system with little government interference, 55% told the pollsters they were not willing to pay higher taxes in order to reduce income inequality.

Respondents who supported social democracy as well as those with more capitalist inclinations said they were opposed to higher taxes to help the poor, as did respondents who identified themselves as being low-income.

A majority of both those who feel poor and those who are unwilling to pay higher taxes to reduce income disparity, but the former, whose financial situation is presumably more difficult, are more strongly opposed to doing so, IDI’s 2014 Israel Democracy index said.

Although the survey of 1,007 adults was carried out in April and May of last year, it confirms the view that cost-of-living and other economic issues are at the forefront of voters’ concerns as they go to the polls in March to elect a new government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken crowd-pleasing measures such as price controls of basic food and extending the minimum wage to the public sector.

A 37.1% plurality of Israelis said the government should focus on “socioeconomic goals” – with an even greater plurality of 41.5% for Israeli Jews – than on foreign affairs and defense, which only 26.3% thought should be top priority. Most of the rest thought the government should focus equally on both.

The survey team, headed by Tamar Hermann, director of IDI’s Guttman Center for Surveys, said it encountered a marked sense of “helplessness” among respondents, with 75.5% reporting that they felt that they and their friends could influence policy “not so much” or “not at all.”

“Though the findings are not new, they certainly do not bode well for Israeli democracy, since such feelings of impotence can lead to apathy among citizens and even delegitimization of the government,” the report said.

Majorities of those polled expressed little confidence in economic institutions, with 59% saying they didn’t trust the Finance Ministry and 62% felt the same toward the banks. A 55% majority said they saw the influence of the wealthy as harmful to democracy but even more – 79% – held that the big labor unions have too much power.

Asked about their personal financial status, 37.5% of those polled said they believed their household income was below the national average. About 19% of Israelis polled said they felt poor, a figure that rose to 33.5% among Arabs.

The percentage saying they felt poor was actually lower than the National Insurance Institute’s estimate for 2014, which put the percentage of Israelis under the official poverty line at 21.8%.