Gabriel Abensour


Apart from majority rule, freedom of expression, and the basic principle of separation of powers, without which democracy could unquestionably not exist, there are other values that enjoy broad consensus, including equality, human dignity, human freedom, human life, the illegitimacy of racism, and more. Over the years, the degree to which the Israeli public accepts these values has been measured through questions about whether the values are perceived as important, and with attention to the implications of embracing or rejecting them. For example, questions about the willingness to “allocate to the Arabs identical budgets to those received by Jews,” formulated in various ways, examine the degree to which equality has been recognized as a value and the degree to which racism has been invalidated; questions assessing trust in governmental institutions, as well as questions about the desire for a “strong leader,” can illuminate respondent attitudes toward the separation of powers, and so forth. If my description of matters is accepted as plausible, we may conclude that Israeli democracy has core values and that attitudes toward those values can be measured.36

Civil equality between Jews and Arabs

A look at Masorti views on issues pertaining to the Arab sector shows that those views are often in line with the Jewish-Israeli average. Thus, 64.5% of Masortim say they accept Arab citizens as full members of Israeli society (the general-Jewish average is 63%). Fifty-eight percent agree that there should be equal individual rights, equal governmental budgets, and equal educational and employment opportunities between Arab and Jewish citizens.

It should be noted that the only group in Israel that champions civil equality to a more significant degree than the Masortim are the secular. When we examine the data with a view toward distinguishing between “non-religious Masortim” and “religious Masortim,” we find that the data for the former are nearly identical to those for the secular.37 Also, Masortim tend not to hold essentialist or racist views on the differences between Jews and Arabs. Thus, when questioned about whether most Jews are better than most Arabs because they were born Jews, 27% of Masortim responded in the affirmative, versus 46% of the Datiim and 64% of the Haredim;38 this means that in Israel there is a clear correlation between opposition to civil equality and religious conservatism, though the Masorti support for equality proves that such support does not derive solely from a universalist stance. As we shall see below, the Masorti-not-so-religious also identify with particularist and nationalist views, without those views compromising their commitment to civil equality.

The Nation-State Law and the principle of equality

The 2018 Nation-State Law has led to intra-Masorti polarization. We may say, roughly, that most of the secular supported annulling the law or adding to it an equality provision (68%), while most of the Datiim (56%) and the Haredim (68%) supported changing it to strengthen the Jewish character of the state. However, the Masortim were more divided. Thirty-eight percent supported annulling the law or adding an equality provision to it, versus 40% who supported changing the law to strengthen the state’s Jewish character.39

A shared society for Jews and Arabs

Of all the Jewish subgroups in Israel, the secular and the Masortim are the most open in their views regarding the Arab sector’s participation in civil society and on the creation of shared spaces for Jews and Arabs. Eleven and a half percent of the secular and 14% of Masortim “are very concerned” about the fact that half of Israel’s pharmacists are Arabs, while the percentages rise to 25% among the Datiim and 30% among the Haredim. Twenty-Seven percent of Masortim were concerned that an Arab judge, George Karra, headed the panel that convicted the former president of Israel, Moshe Katzav, versus 45% of the Datiim and 55% of the Haredim. Thirty-five percent of the secular and 52% of Masortim would oppose renting their apartments to Arabs, versus 76% of the Datiim and 90% of the Haredim. Also, 49% of Masortim would agree to let Arabs study in Jewish high schools, with the average share for the Jewish public as a whole amounting to 53%. This figure drops to 22% for the Datiim, and 5% for the Haredim.40

JPPI’s 2022 Pluralism Index looked at the degree of support among different Jewish subsectors for the creation of shared spaces for Jews and Arabs. The data again show that the average Masorti view almost exactly corresponds to the average Israeli view. First, the vast majority of Masortim in Israel believe that public services should not be segregated, whether in hospitals (79%), health fund facilities (88%), or public transportation (89%). However, when what is at issue are spaces whose character is religious, such as cemeteries, 83% of Masortim support complete separation between Arabs and Jews, versus 52% of the secular, 91% of the Datiim, and 93% of the Haredim. Regarding residential segregation, the Masortim differ from the other Jewish subsectors. Only a minority (31%) support complete segregation, in contrast to the Datiim and the Haredim, 60% of whom support segregation. However, only 24% of Masortim support shared neighborhoods, while 44% feel that both shared and separate neighborhoods should be allowed, compared with the secular, 50% of whom support shared neighborhoods and 33% of whom support both options.41 On an issue that represents one of the major points of tension in Israeli society, a majority of Masortim choose the middle way: to allow it for those who so wish, and not to impose it on those who do not.

A strong leader and trust in the state institutions

In IDI’s Israeli Democracy Index for 2017, 35% of Masortim completely disagreed with the statement “To handle Israel’s unique problems, we need a strong leader who is not swayed by the Knesset, the media or public opinion,” while a quarter strongly agreed with it. To compare, 40% of the secular, but only 24% of the National Religious and 20% of the Haredim expressed similar opposition.42 Regarding trust in state institutions, a survey conducted by Sammy Smooha in 2019 showed that 59.6% of the Masorti public trust the courts, and that 43% of Masortim trust the Knesset.43 Similarly, the 2017 Democracy Index shows that 56% of Masortim trust the Supreme Court, versus 79% of the secular, 32% of the National Religious, and 12% of the Haredim.44