Pluralism Index 2023: Israelis Want a Democratic and Jewish State

Findings from a comprehensive survey on pluralism in Israeli society.

By: Shmuel Rosner, Professor Camil Fuchs, Noah Slepkov.

Pluralism Index 2023: Israelis Want a Democratic and Jewish State

JPPI’s annual Pluralism Index tracks various parameters that reflect relations between different groups in Israeli society. Some of these parameters recur each year, or every few years, enabling comparison between past and present.

This year, after a five-year interval, we repeated a question about the level of religious/secular coercion in Israel as perceived by Jews from different sectors. It should be emphasized, again, that this year’s questionnaire was administered against the background of heated political-social tension in Israel, as well as the fact that the political camps currently – more than in the past – align with religiosity levels. A significant proportion of the groups that make up Israel’s current governing coalition are Religious and Haredi, while a substantial majority of opposition supporters are secular or traditional not-so-religious.

However, impressions and attitudes about religious or secular coercion in Israel are nothing new. In 2018 a strong sense of religious coercion was detected, which rose as one moved toward “secular” on the religiosity scale; at the same time, a certain (less strong) sense of secular coercion was found, which intensified as one moved toward the Religious-Haredi end of the scale.

In the case of religious coercion, no very meaningful change was found this year. The share of secular Jews who feel that there is significant religious coercion in Israel remains very high; on a coercion scale ranging from 1 (no coercion) to 10 (very significant coercion), the secular respondents, on average, rated it at 7 or higher. A certain increase over five years ago was found for the “mirror image” – Religious and Haredi claims of secular coercion.

As in the questionnaire of half a decade ago, the secular coercion picture corresponds to, and is the flip side of, the religious coercion picture. However, this year the Religious-Haredi claim of secular coercion approaches the level of religious coercion claimed by the secular camp. Some 61% of Haredim rated the degree of secular coercion at over 7 (out of 10), as did 49% of the religious group.

The implication of these findings is that Israel is in a state of polarization even regarding the sense of coercion felt by the two opposing camps: The feelings manifested at both ends of the scale are ones of “being” coerced, but with little acknowledgement of claims that one’s own camp is perceived as the “coercer” by the other camp.

Sixty-one percent of Haredim rated Israeli religious coercion in the 1 to 3 range, while the religious group rated it at 1 to 4. That is, the Religious-Haredi camp does not agree that there is significant religious coercion in Israel. At the same time, 61% of the secular public rated secular coercion in Israel at 1 to 2, evincing a very low degree of recognition that there is secular coercion in Israel. Among the traditional not-so-religious, 64% rated Israeli secular coercion at 1 to 5 – a fairly low level of recognition that secular coercion exists in Israel. Regardless of the factual question of who is right (a question that cannot be easily answered), it is clear that a controversy of fact prevails in Israeli perceptions of reality, one that makes it very hard to arrive at satisfactory arrangements.

When each side assumes that it is the one suffering from coercion while leaving the other side uncoerced, willingness for compromise on disputes pertaining to religion-and-state arrangements may be expected to be low.

Another time-based comparison, one pertaining to the sense of partnership between Jews and Arabs in Israel, was conducted vis-à-vis last year’s data. The comparison was felt to be worthwhile due to a major change in circumstances: Last year Israel’s government was run by a coalition that included an Arab party in the mix, while this year’s government comprises parties that explicitly reject the idea of including Arab parties in the coalition.

Against the background of these changes, no very significant gaps have emerged in Jewish and Arab attitudes toward a common future for the two populations. There has been a slight increase among Jews for the idea of a common future, along with a slight drop among Arabs. Centrist Jews constitute the group that exhibits the most meaningful change, per this survey – among this group, the share of those who “strongly agree” that all Israelis have a common future rose from 33 to 47%. But this increase is not confined to centrists; it was also detected in all other groups along the political spectrum at varying levels.

It is interesting to note, from a methodological perspective, that these differences are discernable both when we compare the present and previous survey findings generally, and when we perform individual comparisons for those who completed both this and last year’s survey to some extent (nearly 600 respondents). That is: the same Israelis who completed the 2022 questionnaire and the 2023 questionnaire changed their views to some extent (the Haredim were the sole exception; their answers this year show almost no divergence from their answers last year).