On the eve of Tisha B’Av – the day the Temple was destroyed, and a day when we remember the internal divisions that caused the catastrophe – Israel feels fragmented, divided. How divided? We can start with the bad news: most Israelis feel “strongly divided.” And of course, “Israeli society” is not an entity, but rather a collection of individuals. So most of them feel divided. And another caveat: they feel divided, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re divided. We’ll get there soon.
In a survey we conducted and analyzed earlier this week, we offered Israelis four options, from “strongly divided” to “strongly united.” The choice of “strongly united” is negligible or even non-existent. The choice of “somewhat unified” is less than ten percent. The result is almost consensual. Here is one thing we are united on: Israel is the opposite of united.
At the right end of the political spectrum, Israel’s largest camp, about half of those polled (figures are based on 1,300 questionnaires) say Israel is “strongly divided.” Another third say “somewhat divided”. The more one moves to the left on the political map, towards the center-right, the center, the center-left and the left, the more the proportion of those who identify a deep division increases and the proportion of those who identify a slight division or unit decreases. In fact, left of center there are no respondents who think Israel is “strongly united”. Only a small number think that Israel is “somewhat united”. And we should say that even on the right, the combination of “strongly united” and “somewhat united” gets little support – less than a fifth. For example, only 11% of Likud voters say they are “united” (somewhat or strongly).
But there is one exception: voters of the “Religious Zionism” party. Among his hawkish religious voters, about a quarter think Israel is united. Compared to other groups, this is a positive perception. And there is another exception for voters of the “Religious Zionism” party: like Arab voters in Israel, they believe that the main tension in Israel is not that between the “right” and the “left”, as most other Jewish voters say. . They think it’s the tension between Jews and Arabs.
This is based on another question we asked this week. We have shown that most Israelis think the country is divided. But we wanted to know: “divided by what? In our questionnaire, five options were presented: Jewish-Arab, religious-secular, right-left, rich-poor, Mizrahi-Ashkenazi. Among these, two are more dominant than the others: right-left, which makes sense, especially in an electoral atmosphere; and Jewish-Arabs, which also makes sense, unless you’re a space visitor.
Looking at these two questions, two interesting socio-political trends seem clear.
A considerable proportion of Jews on the religious right find it difficult to recognize how the political divide affects the rest of Israeli society. Religious Zionist voters are the ones who tend more than others to underestimate the severity of the divide. They are also more likely than others to underestimate the severity of the left-right divide. In other words, religious Zionist voters are not aligned with the sentiments of the majority of other Jews in Israel. This is not insignificant for a party which should currently be the fourth in importance in the next Knesset.
Just as the center-left tends to emphasize the sense of division in society more than the right, it also has a much stronger tendency to choose the right-left divide as the main one in Israeli society. To be sure, Likud voters are also choosing the right-left divide at a high rate. But among Likud voters, the gap between the two main sources of tension is not very large (6%); that is to say the image of a fairly close competition between two causes. By contrast, among Blue and White voters, nearly twice as many rank right-left versus next (Jews-Arabs), and the situation is similar among those voting Labor, Yesh Atid , Meretz , Yisrael Beitenu. In other words: as one moves to the left, excluding Arab voters, the resulting picture is one of a deeper split – one whose cause is political rather than national.
Does a sense of division equal real division?
And we cannot end this column without asking a crucial question: does a feeling of splitting equal real splitting? Maybe, but not necessarily. We may feel a deep split, but in a moment of crisis it will become clear that we were wrong, that an external threat is rapidly moving us from superficial division to deep unity. Of course, this is the optimistic interpretation. The pessimist sends us thinking about the grim possibility that the audience is right. Sometimes the very feeling of division fuels a top-down process that results in even greater division. The less we feel united, the more we cling to our “side”, and thus we further accentuate the feeling of division. The pessimistic option is therefore the one that sends us back to thinking about Tisha B’Av.
Something I wrote in Hebrew
Four parties merged: New Hope with Blue and White, Yamina with Derech Eretz (now the New Zionist Spirit). So what should we be looking at when looking at the polls? Here is what I wrote:
Pointers for next week: The most important thing is whether the Netanyahu bloc moves towards 61 seats. Otherwise, all other movement is largely a slight ripple in standing water. More: Is the Zionist Spirit party showing signs of life? If this does not happen quickly, if the Ayelet Shaked-Yoaz Hendel union does not show rapid impact, the party will collapse. More: Does the downward trend continue for Labor and does the upward trend continue for Meretz? Plus: Also pay attention to United Torah Judaism (UTJ). It is also trending downward. This won’t affect Netanyahu’s bloc because UTJ voters aren’t shifting to center-left parties. But it may well affect the mood in the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi parties, which are in a kind of silent war.
One week numbers
To find out what this means, see the column above.
Response from a reader:
Michael Schwartz writes in response to my column last week: “If the Jewish Agency is now a tool that Putin is using against Israel, that’s another reason (and there are many) to shut it down. The Jewish Agency was needed when there was no state, now it is redundant.
Shmuel Rosner is a political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.