Survey: Israel Yet to Grasp Concept of Democracy

More than half the Jewish population of Israel - 53 percent - is opposed to full equal rights for Israeli Arabs, according to a survey conducted last month by the Israel Democracy Institute.

More than half the Jewish population of Israel - 53 percent - is opposed to full equal rights for Israeli Arabs, according to a survey conducted last month by the Israel Democracy Institute.

The general conclusion of the survey, which is dubbed the "Israeli Democracy Survey" and will be conducted every year, is that Israel is basically a democracy in form more than in substance, and that it has yet to internalize fully the concept of democracy.

In examining various indicators concerning the state of democracy in the country, the survey takes into consideration various polls and comparisons with other democracies, and also measures changes in Israeli society over time, using both existing data and research conducted for this specific purpose. The results of the survey - conducted among 1,208 adults representing all sectors of Israel's population - will be announced next Thursday at a conference at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

The survey focused on institutions, human rights and stability, and social cohesiveness. Each of these three elements were measured according to several indicators; a total of 31 indicators relating to the state of democracy in Israel were used.

The current survey discovered the lowest support in the last 20 years for the assertion that democracy is the best form of governance: Only 77 percent of the respondents supported this premise - as compared to 90 percent in 1999. Israel is also one of the only four countries of the 32 listed in the study, in which most of the public believes that "strong leaders can do more for the country than debates or legislation."

Prof. Asher Arian and Prof. David Nachmias, who conducted the survey, say that Israeli democracy is particularly vulnerable today because of the occupation, the intifada and the war on terror. Consequently, Israel scores relatively low on human rights and freedom of the press, which they say should be a warning sign. On freedom of the press, Israel scored 70 out of 100 - the minimum requirement for the press to be considered free. One of the reasons attributed to the dip in Israel's rating in this area, from 72 points in the mid-1990s, is the attitude of the authorities toward the foreign press since the onset of the intifada. In this respect, Israel is ahead of only Romania, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico and India.

Concerning discrimination against minorities, Israel scored 3 on a scale of 0-4, and thus belongs to the bottom third of the 28 countries covered in the survey. In human rights violations, Israel (including the territories) also scores very high, leading the list together with South Africa.

The only parameter in which Israel scored highest in a positive way regards the extent that political competition is open to everyone and enables governmental change. But the flipside of this achievement is frequent changes in the government and deep social rifts, reflecting instability and lack of social cohesiveness, according to the survey. Of 26 countries, only India beat Israel in terms of social gaps. Israel and Argentina share first place in the frequency of changes in governments - five in 10 years - and thus also share first place in terms of instability.

On the institutional front, Israel scored fairly well. It ranked sixth of 36 countries in terms of representativeness and political balance, but was only 22nd in terms of voter turnout, with a 68 percent turnout in 2003 elections as compared to 77 percent in 1996, for example. Distrust between individuals also ranked high compared to other countries.

A nonprofit organization, the Israel Democracy Institute aims to promote structural, political and economic reforms, to provide information and comparative research for the Knesset and government authorities, to serve as an advisory body for decision-makers and the general public, and to encourage public discourse about issues on the national agenda.