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Summary - October 1997

A decisive majority of the Israeli public is opposed to the assertion that the Left "has forgotten what it means to be a Jew". About one half believe that there is no difference between the Left and the Right's concern for Israel's security. However, according to prevailing belief, the democratic character of the State of Israel is more important to the Left than it is to the Right. Opinion is divided on how the peace process has influenced relations between secular and religious Jews so far. Only a few believe that the process has led to a rapprochement, but the numbers of those who believe that the process has had no influence in this respect (about 44%) and those believing that the process has increased the distance between the two sectors (42%) are almost equal. This emerges from the Peace Index poll conducted on October 29th.

The outburst caused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks on the lack of Jewish commitment of Israel's Left, and the the resulting link to their positions on the peace process led us to focus this month's poll on how the Jewish public in Israel views relations between the sectors: Right-Left (from the Hawk-Dove aspect) and secular-religious. Firstly, we found that the numbers Right and Left are divided almost equally: when we asked those polled to define themselves as Leftist or Rightist, we found a slight preference for the latter: 37.5% declared themselves as Rightists and 32.0% as Leftists. 20.4% placed themselves in the Center (although this alternative was not suggested to them by the pollsters) and the remainder did not know or could not find their place in either Left or Right.

However, when interviewees were asked to decide whether they primarily defined themselves as Jews or Israelis, those defining themselves primarily as Jews were clearly superior in numbers (55.2%) over the group which declared itself first and foremost as Israelis (30.2%) 13.2% were totally unable to decide, and the remainder was not prepared to define themselves as either Jews or Israelis.

Upon splitting up the answers to the question of self-definition of Left or Right, we found a marked difference between the two camps: of those who described themselves as "Leftist", only 34% chose to primarily call themselves Jews (46.2% termed themselves Israelis and 19.5% said they did not know), as opposed to 68.0% self×described Rightists and, primarily, Jews. Only 18.0% called themselves Israelis first and foremost. 13.8% of the "Rightists" defined themselves as both Jews and Israelis to equal extents. No one in this group chose to reply "don't know". Of those who stated they belonged to the "Center", 63.6% stated they were primarily Jews and 27.5% were primarily Israelis (about 9% did not know).

Nonetheless, a decisive majority of the public (68.5%) is opposed or strongly opposed to Netanyahu's remark that the Left has forgotten what it is to be a Jew. Only 22.6% agreed or strongly agreed with this statement and 8.8% had no clear opinion. As anticipated, when the answers are split up according to Left-Right self-definition, a more complex picture emerges: 44.8% of the self-declared Rightists agreed with the statement, as against only 5.7% from the Left and 10.1% at the Center. Opponents of the statement in the Right was 46.2%, reaching 88.8% among the Left, and 79.0% at the Center. In other words, while there are more people who oppose Netanyahu's statement than others who agree with it, there is a sizeable element in the Right who definitely accept the Prime Minister's remarks on the dubious Judaism of the Left.

In reply to the question of who is more concerned about Israel's security, one half (53.4%) expressed the view that there is no difference between Left and Right. Still, among those who believe that there is a difference between the two camps on this issue, twice as many (28.2%) believe that the Right is more concerned while only 13.6% feel that the Left is less concerned about the security of the State of Israel. A totally different picture emerges with regard to the public's estimate of how greatly the two camps care about the nature of Israel's democracy. Here the Left is in the lead: 45.0% said that the Left cares more, and only 16.5% believed that the Right cares more. 28.0% estimate that democracy is equally important to both camps. The remainder had no clear opinion. Still, to obtain an overall estimate of the nature of both Left and Right, it should be recalled that numerous studies held in the past have shown that a sizeable part of the public in Israel considers the security issue as more important than democracy.

In other words, on the national scale of priorities, the Left is seen as far more committed to an issue that ranks lower than security on the national scale.

Another interesting finding: the fact that a majority of those polled defined themselves primarily as Jews does not entail sweeping support of granting political power to the religious camp. This is borne out by 68% of those polled who claimed that in their view the influence of the religious bloc after the last elections had grown too strong. Only 18% believe that this bloc has just the right strength, and only about 10% think it is too weak. Most of the public (52.8%) also disputes the stand of the religious parties on the Conversion Bill which has been the focus of political debate in recent days, and assert that the Conservative and Reform movements should be granted equal status in Israel. On the other hand those opposed to equal status seemingly constitute an opposition in principle, since three quarters of them believe the Conservative and Reform movements should not be granted equal status even if this has an adverse effect on relations between Israel and Jewry in the Diaspora in general and U.S. Jewry in particular.

Due, perhaps, to focusing on internal matters last month, or as a result of the relative calm in the domains of security and defense the peace indices rose somewhat in October as against September: The General Peace Index last month stood at 58.9 points (58.4 in September), the Oslo Index was 47.2 points (45.9 in September) and the Syria Index was 38.8 (34.4 in September).


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