Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Israeli Democracy Index

        Each year, for the past seven years, a group called the Israeli Democracy Index (IDI), measures the performance of Israel's democratic institutions and issues an anual report card to the country's top leadership. Pres. Shimon Peres received the report card at the end of November for 2010. Israel is unique in this regard, since no other country among all the nations of the world undertakes a systematic self-examination to determine how well or poorly its institutions function.
        IDI's report for 2010 measured public perceptions of the nation through a series of national and international public opinion surveys. The report addressed internal Israeli public attitudes toward its own values and behavior, as well as Israel's majority-minority relations, citizen opinion regarding it's performance as a democracy, and Israel's performance in comparison to that of other democratic countries. Some of the findings may surprise us.
We in the U.S. tend to view Israel through the lens of America'a democratic institions, so it should come as no surprise that almost three quarters of the population (72%) say they do not trust the political parties, although most of them do not believe tha parties should be abolished. The same high percentage (70%) support and have confidence in the institution of the Presidency. (Shimon Peres is becoming increasingly popular.) More than half the people (54%) Have confidence in the Supteme Court, while 44% do not. Less than half (41%) have confidence in the police.
        With respect to democratic principles, four fifths of the Jewish population (82%) believe that medical care should be free, regardless of whether the patient has insurance, while only 40% of the Arabs feel this way. But here is a surprising statistic----only 43% of the general population feel that it is equally important for Israel to be both a Jewish and a democratic state, while 31% think the Jewish component is more important and only 20% think democracy is more important. Almost two thirds of the people (60%) believe that it would be better for Israel to have a few strong leaders than all the democratic debates and legislation, and more than half of them would prefer a government of experts who make decisions on professional rather than political considerations.
      One particular finding calls Winston Churchill to mind. He once said that democracy is the worst form of government imaginable, except for all the others. By the same token, more than four fifths of the population (81%) agree that Israel's democracy is not perfect, but that it is better than any other form of government. More than half of them believe that the country should hold observing law and public order before the ideal of democracy. On a scale of one to ten, the Jewish public rates Israel's democracy at 5.4 while immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) rate it slightly higher at 5.6 and the Arab public slightly lower at 5.1.
       More than half of Israeli veterans (56%) think that people who have never served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) should not be eligible to vote or run for public office, but a higher percentage (62%) of Russian immigrants and 76% of the ultra-Orthodox disagree. Half of the general public favors equal rights as between Arabs and Jews, but the more orthodox the group, the greater the opposition to equal rights. Only 33.5% of secular Jews oppose the idea, while 51% of traditional Jews and 65% of Orthodox Jews oppose it. Almost two thirds (62%) of the Jewish population believe that as long as the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs continues, the Arab citizens of Israel should have no voice in Israeli scurity or foreign policy decisions. Interestingly, slightly more than half (51.5%) of the overall Jewish public agrees that only immigrants who are Jewish as defined by Halakha should be granted automatic citicenship. Only one third of the Russian immigrants agree, while almost nine tenths (88%) of the ultra-Orthodox agree.
        In most international rankings, Israel follows the established democracies and ranks close to the new democracies of East Europe, Central and South America. It's standing has neither improved nor dimished in recent years. In equlity between the genders, it ranks higher than any of the new democracies. In terms of political stability, Israel ranks last among the democracies studied.

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