OpinionIsrael News

Manipulating Israeli public opinion

IDI's recent survey on Israelis' attitudes toward judicial reform brings to mind Mark Twain's "lies, damn lies and statistics."

Israelis protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul, in Haifa, March 27, 2023. Photo by Shir Torem/Flash90.
Israelis protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul, in Haifa, March 27, 2023. Photo by Shir Torem/Flash90.
Naomi Kahn, director of the International Division of Regavim. Photo by Josh Hasten.
Naomi Linder Kahn
Naomi Linder Kahn is director of the International Division of Regavim, a research-based think tank and lobbying group dedicated to preserving Israel’s resources and sovereignty.

Both George Orwell and Mark Twain would have demanded that we take notice.

The results of a recent “trust index” survey conducted in Israel revealed far more than just dry numbers—although of course those numbers are important. Even more important are issues concerning public trust— the very core of democracy.

Against the backdrop of controversy surrounding reform of Israel’s judicial system, the survey was conducted in early May 2023 by Direct Polls Ltd., an independent Israeli polling company, to examine the degree of public trust in Israel’s state institutions—the Knesset (parliament), the Supreme Court, the president and the Israel Defense Forces.

The results indicate that the Israeli public has far greater trust in the Knesset—by dozens of percentage points—than it does in Israel’s judiciary, from the Supreme Court down to the legal advisers and counselors who answer to the Supreme Court.

The survey asked participants, “How much trust do you have in the members of the Knesset you elected?” Seventy-seven percent of respondents expressed a “medium to high degree of trust,” compared to only 21% who indicated they had low to non-existent trust in their elected representatives.

The breakdown of this response is a snapshot of current political realities in Israel: More than 85% of people who voted for “right wing” coalition parties—both secular and religious—expressed confidence in their elected officials. Voters for opposition parties expressed confidence at a level of 70-80%, while voters for far-left and anti-Zionist parties expressed the least confidence in their elected representatives, between 65% to 45%.

These findings, however, were in stark contrast with results of another survey, conducted only days earlier by the Israel Democracy Institute.

The IDI survey indicated that only 14% of Israeli voters have a moderate to high degree of trust in the Knesset, while 83% indicated low to non-existent trust.

As is almost always the case, the different answers are the result of differences built into the questions. The wording of the question posed in the IDI survey referred to the “level of trust in the Knesset” while the “Direct Polls Trust Index” survey examined trust “in the members of the Knesset you elected” (emphasis added).

It should be clear to anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of politics—Israeli or otherwise—that there is no expectation that conservative voters will trust representatives of left-wing parties, or vice versa. Voters trust the representatives they elected, the men and women they chose as their messengers.

In a democracy, citizens elect people to represent them and their values in the legislature, and entrust them with a mandate to speak for them in matters that touch upon essential or even existential questions on the public agenda. These representatives are expected to voice the opinions of their electorate, to move legislation and public policy forward without sacrificing the core principles and ideals of the people who elected them. That is what democracy is all about.

Other survey results were equally skewed as a result of manipulative phrasing of the questions: The Direct Polls survey indicates that the Supreme Court is trusted by only 50% of the public. Only 16% of Likud voters expressed trust in the judiciary, and less than 5% of voters for the Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox parties, compared to those who voted for opposition parties over 80% of whom expressed trust.

On the other hand, the purposefully phrased IDI survey was crafted to justify weakening the powers of the Knesset and granting excessive powers to the judicial branch. Not surprisingly, the IDI survey results supported their stated anti-judicial-reform position, and were published under the title “Only a Minority of Israelis Support the Proposed Judicial Overhaul.”

The relevance of Mark Twain’s “lies, damn lies and statistics” quote to the IDI’s survey results is unmistakable. The way its question was worded regarding the public’s trust in the Knesset ensured that the results would create the totally false impression that the public does not trust the members of the Knesset and favors the judges of the Supreme Court.

The relevant question, which is more closely reflected in the wording of the Direct Polls survey, is the level of the public’s trust in the members of the Knesset chosen by them, and the results show that an absolute majority of the public trusts its elected representatives—a fact that points to an extremely healthy parliamentary democracy.

Additional points of comparison between the two surveys are no less instructive—particularly regarding questions that were worded neutrally. Thus, regarding public trust in Israel’s president (currently Isaac Herzog), the Direct Polls and IDI surveys had similar findings: Likud, Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox party voters expressed less than 40% trust, compared to voters for opposition parties, who expressed over 70% trust.

These findings point to a trend of polarization between the camps—hardly a surprise given the protests and the campaign of civil disruption that have supplanted parliamentary debate on substantive issues. These campaigns to undemocratically overturn the result of a free and fair election would surely have caught the eye of George Orwell—especially as they were all conducted under the rallying cry of “protecting democracy.”

If ever there was a case of Orwellian newspeak, this is it—straight out of 1984‘s “Ministry of Truth.”

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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