JPPI Israeli Society Index

JPPI Israeli Society Index, May 2024

Most of the public feels that “no one won, and no one lost” in the exchange of hostilities between Iran and Israel. In addition, a large majority of Jews agree with the assertion that the Jews are a “chosen people,” but most secular Jews reject the idea

The Jewish People Policy Institute’s monthly Israeli Society Index shows a significant decline in the Israeli public’s sense of optimism – with regard to the state, and on a personal level – accompanied by a drop in confidence that Israel will win the war. Trust in the government is very low, and trust in the IDF command echelon has fallen substantially. Most of the public feels that the prime minister, the minister of defense, and the IDF chief of staff should resign from their posts.

This report has three main parts. The first deals with the war and its repercussions, the second with Israelis’ sense of confidence, optimism, and trust, and the third with Jewish identity.

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Main Findings

  • The main event that will signal the end of the war in the eyes of the public is when “the residents of the south and the north return home”
  • Most of the public feels that “no one won, and no one lost” in the exchange of hostilities between Iran and Israel
  • Israelis are almost evenly divided on whether Israel’s response to the Iranian offensive was “appropriate” or “too weak”
  • A third of Israeli Jews feel that President Biden does not support Israel; most Arabs feel that Biden’s support for Israel has not eroded
  • A third of Israeli Jews are not sure it would be best for their children/grandchildren to live in Israel
  • Eight of ten Israeli Jews are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about the anti-Israel demonstrations on US campuses
  • Seven out of ten Jews are “somewhat” or “very” concerned that the West will regard Israel as a “pariah state”
  • A large majority of Jews agree with the assertion that the Jews are a “chosen people,” but most secular Jews reject the idea

The Gaza War

Most Israeli Jews (61%) think Israel should “operate in Rafah in any case.” This response was obtained in a survey conducted before the mortar attack that killed three IDF soldiers, and before it became clear whether there would or would not be a deal with Hamas that would include the release of hostages. A little less than a third of Israeli Jews feel that an offensive in Rafah may be forgone in exchange for deal to release hostages (29%), while a small minority (6%) think Israel should refrain from operating in Rafah in any case.

Regarding the possibility of a Rafah operation, significant disparities were found according to ideological camp. On the right (and among the religious, as well as younger people) there is a clear tendency to support a Rafah operation “in any case.”

 

Israel versus the World

International legitimacy is one issue Israelis have to face regarding an operation in Rafah, in light of reports of American opposition to such an operation and the possibility of International Criminal Court warrants being issued against Israeli leaders and officers. Sixty-seven percent of Israelis (69% of Jewish Israelis) are concerned about the possibility of Israel becoming a “pariah state” in the eyes of the West.

 Levels of concern are significantly affected by ideological affiliation (as well as religiosity level). On the right, and among religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews, concern about how Western countries relate to Israel is substantially lower. However, even on the right about half of the respondents are at least “somewhat” concerned about the possibility of Israel becoming a pariah state.

Regarding Israel’s global standing in light of the war, and given the criticism expressed by a sizeable number of countries regarding Israel’s conduct in recent months, we also asked whether Israelis feel that the Western countries “understand” what Israel is facing. Responses to this question showed a major disparity between Jewish and Arab Israelis. While a large majority of Jews feel that Western countries do not understand Israel’s situation, Arabs are more likely to assume that the international criticism does not stem from a lack of understanding of Israel, but from disapproval of Israeli policy.

Among Jewish Israelis, discrepancies in responses to this question based on ideological orientation were found. A sizeable subgroup of the left and center left (who amount to a fifth of the Jewish public) feels the West understands Israel but does not always agree with it. By contrast, a large majority of those in the centrist and right-wing political camps maintain that Western states do not understand Israel’s situation, with a third of all Israeli Jews expressing disappointment over this lack of understanding.

The US and Israel

We repeated a question this month regarding President Biden’s support for Israel. Since February, there has been a certain rise in the share of Israeli Jews who feel that Biden does not support Israel (a total of 32%). Most Arab Israelis (54%) think that “President Biden strongly supported Israel at the beginning of the war, and still does today.” That is, most Arab Israelis feel that Biden’s support for Israel has not eroded, while a quarter of them think there has been some erosion, but that Biden still supports Israel (25%).

In the West, the most notable development of the past few weeks has been the campus demonstrations of support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel. These events have also been covered in depth by the Israeli media, raising levels of public concern. Eighty percent of Israeli Jews are (“very” or “somewhat”) concerned by “what’s happening on the campuses.” Israeli Arab respondents were asked a different question with respect to these events, one pertaining to their degree of identification with the messages being conveyed at the demonstrations. Most Arab respondents said they at least “somewhat” agreed with them.

Most Arab respondents (52%) do not believe the demonstrations “also include antisemitic messages against all Jews, including Jews who live in the US,” and maintain that the demonstrations are “only against Israel.” A fifth (20%) feel that the demonstrations are “also against the Jews,” and say that “it’s not okay.” Ten percent believe the demonstrations are also against the Jews, but that “it’s okay” (a fifth responded “Don’t know” to this question).

When will the war end?

Of the options we provided, the chief event that would signal the end of the war in the eyes of the largest group of Jewish Israelis is the return of the residents of southern and northern Israel to their homes. Arab Israelis were almost evenly divided between those who say that the war will be over when the government announces its end, and those who feel that it will be over when the hostages return to their homes. Jews differ on this question by ideological orientation, although all groups (and especially those on the right) feel that the return of Israelis displaced from the north and the south would be the most salient element. From the center leftward, a fifth of respondents felt that the war is “already over,” a response that received less support on the right (and among Arabs).

The Iranian Offensive and the Israeli Response

A few weeks after the Iranian offensive against Israel and the Israeli response to it, most Israelis feel that “no one won, and no one lost” in that round of violence. The share of those who think “Iran won” or that “Israel won” is similar (among Jewish Israelis). Among Arab Israelis, a more substantial majority feel that no one won, and a larger share feel that Israel won. Among Jews, the view that there was neither a winner nor a loser in this round is more strongly expressed as one moves from the right toward the center and the left on the political spectrum; less than half of those on the right hold this view, but the share of those who hold other views remains the same – 24% believe “Iran won” and 23% believe “Israel won.”

Several right-wing leaders, foremost among them National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have criticized Israel’s response to the Iranian attack as being too weak (dardaleh – slang for a weak kick in soccer). But there are major discrepancies in the assessment of Israel’s response based on political orientation. Out of the entire Jewish Israeli public, 45% feel that Israel responded “appropriately,” and a very similar share (41%) feel that the response was “too weak” (a similar percentage of Arab Israeli respondents also chose this answer). As the graph shows, these views correlate with ideological camp; a significant majority on the right believe the response was “too weak.”

Confidence and Optimism

One the eve of Israel’s 76th Independence Day, Israelis are more pessimistic about the future of the state and about their personal futures than they were in previous months; they are not convinced that Israel will win the war it is fighting, and a third of them (half of the Arab respondents) are not convinced that the right place for their children and grandchildren to live in is Israel. These findings were obtained from the monthly survey of the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) in Israel. Regarding the war, there was a turnaround vis-à-vis earlier months, with the share expressing low confidence in an Israeli victory rising above the share of those expressing high confidence in victory. The repeat assessment uses a scale of 1 (low confidence in victory) to 5 (high confidence); ratings of 1 and 2 are treated as “low” confidence and ratings of 4 and 5 as “high” confidence.  As the graph shows, in the May questionnaire 41% of Jews expressed low confidence in victory, versus 38% who expressed high confidence (the rest chose “3,” or “Don’t know”). Among Arabs, confidence in an Israeli victory was low even in prior months, and remained low this month as well.

When we examine the data in greater depth, we find that confidence of victory remains relatively high among young people up to age 24 (59% rated their confidence levels at 4 or 5). Furthermore, confidence remains high among the religious (54%) and the religious traditionalists (53%). When broken down by political orientation, the only group with a majority expressing high confidence of victory is the right-wing group (58%). On the center-right, 40% have high confidence of victory, versus a third (34%) whose confidence of victory is low. In the rest of the groups, the share with low confidence of victory is significantly higher (centrists: 25% high confidence; 51% low confidence).

The war, and perhaps other factors, also affect general levels of optimism vis-à -vis Israelis’ collective and personal futures. Compared with data gathered in January of this year, there has been a substantial decline in optimism among the Israeli public. The share of those who are very optimistic about the state’s future (ratings of 4 or 5) dropped among Jews from 48% to 37%. The share of those who are pessimistic about the state’s future (ratings from -5 to -1) rose from 21% to 30%). A parallel, though less dramatic decline was also found in personal optimism levels of Jewish Israelis (“How optimistic or pessimistic are you about your future?”). With scores weighted on a scale of 0 (most pessimistic) to 10 (most optimistic), optimism about the state dropped from 7.3 to 6.3, while the personal score dropped from 8.1 to 7.4. Among Arab Israelis, the optimism about the state dropped from 4.7 to 3.7, while the personal score dropped from 5.8 to 5.3.

Future in Israel

On the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, and in the midst of a war, we also asked whether Israelis see Israel as the best place for their children and grandchildren to live. In April, an identical question was posed to a large sample of Arab Israelis, and in the previous month to Jews. Most Jewish Israelis feel it would be best for their children/grandchildren to live in Israel, but a third of Jewish Israelis (and nearly half of Arab Israelis) are not convinced that Israel is the best place to live for their children or grandchildren. It should be noted that surveys from earlier years on the question of living in Israel sometimes produced similar findings, according to which a substantial portion, even up to half, of the Israeli population would rather live in another country. In JPPI’s March Israeli Society Index, 66% of Jews disagreed with the statement: “If I had a practical possibility to emigrate abroad, I would do so” – very close to the 67% who in May said it would be best for their children/grandchildren to live in Israel.

In this context, there is a very striking disparity between Jews who self-identify as “secular” and Jews from other groups (by religiosity level). Among the secular (and, accordingly, among political centrists and leftists), slightly more than half of Jewish Israelis feel that Israel is the best place to live (55%). A relatively high share of the secular, about one in five, feel that the best place for their children or grandchildren to live is “a Western country other than Israel.”  A similar percentage “don’t know” where the best place to live is – a response that does not rule Israel out as an option, but also does not reflect confidence in Israel as the best place to live. The responses of secular Israelis on this issue are, in fact, quite similar to those of Arab Israelis (taking into account an obvious difference, namely, that they were not asked about the possibility of living in a Palestinian or Arab state).

Trust in Leaders

The May Israeli Society Index shows a further decline in public trust in the government, low trust in the prime minister (as in previous months), and a marked drop in public trust in IDF commanders (among Jews; Arab trust was and remains quite low). Twenty-eight percent of the Jewish public attests to high or fairly high trust in the government, versus 35% in March. Thirty-two percent place high trust in the prime minister, a figure similar to that of previous months. Among Arabs, 13% have very high or fairly high trust in the government, not a significant change from previous months.

As noted, trust in the IDF command echelon dropped significantly compared with the March assessment. This decline occurred against the backdrop of many months in which the war did not proceed at high intensity in the south, the resignation of Military Intelligence Directorate head Aharon Haliva, the announced retirement from the IDF of Central Command head Yehuda Fox, and the IDF chief of staff’s politically controversial decision (backed by the defense minister) to appoint five new generals to the general staff, including Military Intelligence Directorate and Central Command heads.

Low trust in IDF commanders is especially marked among those in the right-wing camp, a majority of whom (55%) do not trust the command echelon. This finding was obtained in previous months as well, but the rate of low trust rose in the wake of the aforementioned events. Another contributing factor is the harsh and ongoing criticism leveled against IDF commanders by leaders on the political right.

Accordingly, a large majority of Jews (70%) feel that, in the wake of the Military Intelligence Directorate head’s resignation, the IDF chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, should step down as well, although there is no consensus on whether he should resign now (31%) or “when the war is over” (39%). A similar view, with a similar breakdown, can be seen regarding Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s resignation.

On the question of the prime minister’s resignation, very similar findings were obtained in terms of the share of those who think he should step down (68%), but there was a much higher percentage of (Jewish) respondents who think he should resign “immediately” (48%) and not “when the war is over” (20%).

The response discrepancies stem from, as expected, political orientation. Again, in the case of these three officials, similar responses were obtained on the issue of their resignation. However, while segments of the right-leaning camp feel that the prime minister should delay his resignation, but that the chief of staff should resign in the near term, segments of the center and left want to see things happen in the opposite order: the prompt resignation of the prime minister and the later resignation of the defense minister and the chief of staff. Either sequence of events would have implications in terms of who would appoint the next chief of staff.

Israeli Elections

Most of the Israeli public would like new elections to be held by the end of 2024. Among Arab Israelis a substantial majority hold this view, while among Jewish majority, the majority is smaller (assuming that the National Unity party leaves the government this year). Public opinion on this matter has not changed significantly in recent months. In the center and left camps there is a majority who want elections “within three months” (55% for centrists). On the right, a majority (61%) wants elections “at the scheduled time.” Views identified as “center right” are representative of the mainstream of Jewish Israelis.

Jewish Identity

As part of our ongoing study of identity issues in Israeli society, we posed two questions this month pertaining to Jewish identity. In the first, we asked respondents to position themselves on a scale of 0 to 10 regarding the degree to which they “feel Jewish.” On this question, 70% of respondents placed themselves at the maximum level (10), while a tenth (11%) positioned themselves on the next-lowest levels (8 or 9). Overall, 85% of Jewish Israelis positioned themselves above 7 on the scale.

The positioning was not uniform. A breakdown by religiosity level showed two things. One: in all religious subgroups a majority positioned themselves at the maximum level. The other is that the secular (by self-identification) deviate from the other groups on this issue, with half positioning themselves at the maximum level, but a third placing themselves at levels lower than five. For all of these subgroups, we present a weighted score, arrived at by multiplying the percentage at each level by the level number (the maximum score being 10). The intention, needless to say, was not to offer an evaluative ranking of the groups, but simply to determine where they are positioned vis-à-vis other groups in terms of self-attributed “Jewish feeling.”

What it Means to Be the “Chosen People”

With another question pertaining to Jewish identity, we examined the meaning of the “chosen people” concept in the eyes of Jewish Israelis, as well as attitudes (positive or negative) with respect to the concept.

A majority of Jewish Israelis agree with the concept, that is, they ascribe a positive meaning to it and associate it with a “special role” or additional “obligations” compared to other peoples. However, a third of Jewish Israelis believe the concept has a negative meaning, while a fifth attach a condescending or racist meaning to it.

As with the prior identity question, we find that those who self-identify as “secular” (the largest Jewish group – four of ten Israelis) diverge from the other groups. Most of the secular do not, in fact agree with the expression “chosen people,” while a third of them view it negatively, as conveying condescension or racism. Notably, those who accept the “chosen people” concept clearly strive to attribute a non-condescending, and certainly a non-racist, meaning to it. They see it, instead, as the voluntary shouldering of a unique burden, and do not associate it with privileges, except for a small minority. By contrast, the secular clearly do not accept the idea of chosenness in terms of the above interpretation, or they see in that interpretation (“special role”) an element of condescension with which they are uncomfortable.

*Data collection by theMadad.com for the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) survey (643 Jewish respondents via an online poll) and by Afkar Research (204 Arab respondents, half online and half by phone). The data was analyzed and weighted by political affiliation and religiosity level to represent Israel’s adult population. The report was written by Shmuel Rosner and Noah Slepkov, who compile JPPI’s monthly Israeli Society Index.