Poll: A Question of Priorities

rothschild-protest

The summer here in Israel has been eventful to say the least. With the Arab world in turmoil, conversations here have often turned of late to the regional implications of protest, government repression, and revolution in two of Israel’s four immediate neighbors. Yet by mid-July, these discussions largely melted away with the emergence of large domestic protests over a host of social issues including high housing and consumer goods prices, low wages, eroded social services, and the current government’s free-market approach to managing the Israeli economy.

With thousands of protestors across the countries organizing marches, rallies, and tent cities particularly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the government too largely shifted its focus from the Palestinian diplomatic front to these pressing domestic concerns. Unfortunately the distance between the government and the protesters remains quite large, with representatives of the various organizations which have joined the protest dismissing early initiatives put forward by the government appointed Trajtenberg committee.

The protests have also been used as a platform by Kadima chairwoman and opposition head Tsipi Livni as well as the long disaffected Labor party to attempt to reclaim political power for the left. Indeed, the presumed leftist tilt of the protests have kept many away who might otherwise identify with their broad social agenda. The religious and the middle class, upper and lower, all have an interest in improving social services, lowering costs, and raising wages. The protesters calls, “The people demand social justice” (העם דורש צדק חברתי) does not fall on deaf ears with these audiences. Many are, however, skeptical of those who have attempted to capture the energy of these protests for their agenda or public visibility, whether it be the New Israel Fund, the Labor Party, or Peace Now. 

While the tent protests seemed to embody a hope to redefine politics in Israel, many predict that its momentum is now all but lost in no small part due to the movements own lack of clarity of agenda and inability to productively interface with the government bodies which could begin to address their demands. So too as students return to the universities, people end their vacations, and attention shifts back to the international diplomatic front, the protesters’ collective vigor is fading. So too, with renewed missile attacks from Gaza and the recent terrorist attacks along the Israeli-Egyptian border over the past few weeks coupled with renewed Palestinian diplomatic pressures at the United Nations, domestic attention has shifted back to equally pressing issues of security.

With people breaking down their tents and heading home, it now may be easy to dismiss the movement as something ephemeral, a hiccup in an otherwise surprisingly quiet summer in Israel. Yet public opinion polls suggest otherwise. Although collected in July when protest was at its height, the Peace Index reports that a solid majority believe the protests were an expression of real housing distress (55% in complete agreement and 19.7% in agreement) and a distinct minority believed the extreme left to be behind the protests (8.9% in complete agreement and 8.8% in agreement). A very strong majority also expressed their belief that protest was inspired by domestic Israeli concerns rather than inspired by the “Arab Springs” in the Middle East (71.9% versus 22.1%).

israel-priorities-07-11

July 2011: Among the following goals, which in your eyes is the most important for the government to promote at present? The second most important?

 

Peace Agreement

Socio-economic Gaps

Housing Prices

Military Power

International Standing

Don’t Know

General 1 15.1 46.1 18.2 10.2 9.2 1.3
General 2 15 26.9 27.6 11.8 16.1 2.6
Jewish 1 10.9 49.7 17.8 9.9 10.6 1.2
Jewish 2 12.5 27.1 27.6 13.1 17.7 1.9
Arab 1 38.9 25.6 20 12.2 1.1 2.2
Arab 2 28.9 25.6 27.8 4.4 6.7 6.7

In terms of priorities which Israelis feel the government should be pursuing, 46.1% of the general population agreed that addressing socioeconomic gaps should be the state’s number one priority followed by reducing the price of housing at the most preferred second priority. Peace with the Palestinians ranked third as an expressed first priority and fourth as a second priority while improving Israel’s international standing ranked last of five and third respectively. Increasing Israel’s military power ranked fourth as a first priority and last as a second priority.

This pattern was followed closely by the Jewish sector which more strongly ranked addressing socioeconomic gaps at 49.7% as a first priority and housing prices as the most strongly preferred second priority at 27.6%. Peace with the Palestinians ranked a distant third as a first priority and last as a second priority while improving Israel’s international standing ranked fourth and third respectively. Increasing Israel’s military power was ranked last as a first priority and second to last last as a second priority.

Only the Arab sector expressed slightly different priority preferences ranking peace with the Palestinians as their most preferred first and second goal at 38.9% and 28.9% respectively. However they too ranked reducing socioeconomic gaps high, second as a first priority and a close third as a second priority. Housing was right behind as the third preferred first priority and second preferred second priority. Perhaps surprisingly, military power was preferred over improving Israel’s international standing as a first priority, fourth to a very distant fifth, while the ranking was reversed as a second priority, fifth to fourth.

Overall these statistics paint a picture of Israeli society concerned first and foremost with getting its domestic house in order, irrespective of international pressures. So too, the Arab sector which would be expected to prioritize a peace agreement with the PA is, aside from this, closely aligned with the rest of Israeli society on the question of domestic priorities. One may need to take this polling data with a grain of salt in that surveys were conducted when protests were at their height and not at their current dénouement. Perhaps if conducted today, Israelis would more highly prioritize security or Israel’s diplomatic standing.

Given the initial thrust of the protests and the magnitude of popular participation across the country however, it is hard to imagine that these social priorities are not in fact highly valued by Israelis across the board. There will likely never be a time when security and diplomatic concerns will not dominate Israeli politics, but the dramatic emergence of socioeconomic considerations as a cause for popular mobilization cannot be ignored. Whether these values translate into new directions for Israeli politics remains to be seen, but it does seem to be that the government can no longer put social issues on the backburner while it engages in the international diplomatic arena.

One Response to Poll: A Question of Priorities

  1. […] had not been silenced. Since I have addressed the basic substance of protesters’ demands in my previous post covering a recent poll of national priorities, I will not rehash them here. Rather, I will share […]

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