Survey: Huge Majority of Right-wing, Religious Israelis Say Netanyahu Is Being Framed

On eve of attorney general's expected indictment announcement, most Israelis think prime minister is corrupt, but his supporters say it’s law enforcement that’s guilty

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators at a support rally for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017.
Ofer Vaknin

Just before Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decides on filing indictments in the cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it seems that almost half the public has little trust, or no trust, in Mendelblit. This group is made up not just of Likud voters, but comes in large part from the religious Zionist and Haredi communities.

These are some of the findings of a survey conducted on the issue of corruption, the largest-ever conducted in Israel on the matter. It was carried out by Dr. Doron Navot, head of the democracy studies program in the department of political science at Haifa University. The study was funded by the Israel Science Foundation.

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About 75 percent of the ultra-Orthodox people who participated in the series of surveys believe that the institutions of law enforcement in Israel are participating in an attempt to remove Netanyahu, as do 65 percent of Likud voters. Over 60 percent of those who vote for Likud do not believe the police, nor do over 80 percent of those who vote for Shas and United Torah Judaism.

“The literature all over the world talks about differences of opinion among the public concerning corruption, but I didn’t think that they were so deep in Israel,” said Navot, who has been researching corruption in Israel since 2000 and has written a book, “Political Corruption in Israel,” on the issue, which was published by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2012.

The public’s stance concerning corruption has been examined in the past, but never in such a detailed, diverse fashion. The striking thing is that part of the public does not at all believe the messenger – the law enforcement system and the media, Navot found in this latest survey.

“In surveys conducted after the police presented their recommendations to charge him, backing for Netanyahu among his [supporters] only rose and the public’s trust in institutions fell. The significance here is that the law enforcement system investigates Netanyahu, with the possibility of filing indictments, while a large part of the public does not believe in the system. What the government is doing is a violent act and its legitimacy is in doubt as far, as it’s concerned,” Navot said.

The media is even less trusted than law enforcement officials. Almost 90 percent of Haredim and other religious people surveyed believe that the Israeli media are partners in the attempt to remove Netanyahu. Almost 100 percent of Shas and United Torah Judaism voters say they think the media is unfair. Seventy-seven percent of Likud voters and 88 percent of Hayamin Hehadash voters agree.

The media receive a relatively high degree of trust from Labor Party voters, 87 percent of whom think it is fair, while 80 percent of Meretz voters found the media to be fair.

The surveys demonstrate significant differences in the views of what constitutes corruption according to right-wingers, left-wingers, the religious, Haredi and secular. For example, on the question of whether it is an act of corruption for the prime minister to promote the interests of the wealthy in return for favorable media coverage, 46 percent of Likud voters replied that it was not, as did 50 percent of UTJ voters and 55 percent of those voting for Habayit Hayehudi.

This compares to 91 percent of Kahol Lavan voters and 100 percent of Meretz voters who said such an act was one of corruption.

Another notable finding was that as the surveys went on – while the investigations against Netanyahu progressed and the recommendations to charge him were made for accepting bribes in the Case 4000 (Bezeq-Walla) – the proportion of respondents saying this was not corruption grew.

“The thing that stood out for me is this enormous and consistent gap within Israeli society concerning the definition of corruption,” said Navot. “The more the respondent identifies as right-wing or religious or Haredi, their tendency to judge acts that in the establishment media are presented as corrupt steadily diminishes. By the way, the Haredim are the most skeptical. The Haredi community thinks that the entire liberal discourse on equality and integrity is hypocrisy.”

Navot began his surveys just under a year ago, and during this time the police and prosecutors’ recommendations to indict Netanyahu were submitted.

The surveys show a stable percentage of 50 to 55 percent of the Israeli public think Netanyahu is corrupt. Most of those who think he is corrupt are clearly voters of the parties Meretz, Labor and Kahol Lavan. In comparison, the religious and Haredi communities show great support for Netanyahu, over 80 percent of them think he is not corrupt. In addition, some 88 percent of those who intend on voting in the upcoming election for Likud feel Netanyahu is not corrupt.