Shuki Friedman

Faith restored…in Israelis

From the ruins of our faith in our leaders and in the government, a new faith is springing up with extraordinary force
Israeli volunteers help out with pomegranade harvest at kibbutz Kfar Menahem, southern Israel on October 29 2023. Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90
Israeli volunteers help out with pomegranade harvest at kibbutz Kfar Menahem, southern Israel on October 29 2023. Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90

On October 7, that black sabbath, we lost faith. In the prime minister, in his government, in the army. But in the last three weeks, some of that trust has been restored, and a different sort of trust has emerged. Trust in the Israeli other. A Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) survey, conducted by and Professor Camil Fuchs, shows that while Israelis’ trust in the prime minister is very low, their trust in civil society and in our soldiers is nearly absolute. This trust is giving us a rare sense of unity. From the ruins of our faith in our leaders and in the government, a new faith is springing up with extraordinary force: faith in ourselves – ordinary Israelis – and in our ability to take our destiny into our own hands and make a better future.

There is no Israeli who hasn’t woken up every morning since October 7 with the horror in mind, who hasn’t wondered whether it really happened or was just a nightmare. The photographs, the firsthand accounts, and the media reports of what happened that Shabbat and in the days that followed are still very hard to grasp.

Along with the great loss of the murdered and those abducted to Gaza, a great many Israelis have lost confidence. Confidence in the army that was supposed to protect them. Confidence in the government and its leader, who were supposed to safeguard the lives of Israeli citizens and failed at it so dramatically. Any confidence there had been in our government has eroded as a result of its almost total dysfunction in the face of this grievous crisis.

The data speaks for itself. As the war continues, Israelis are reporting a distinct lack of confidence in the prime minister: 53% of the Jewish public has very little trust in Netanyahu, and another 12% place little trust in him. Even among coalition supporters, 41% do not trust him.

Despite the gravity of the current situation, and the government’s incompetence in dealing with the rifts that have deepened within Israeli society since it took office last January, this crisis has brought out the best in almost each and every one of us. There is virtually no challenge, hardship, or lack that has not been addressed with big-hearted goodwill and striking competence by our civil society organizations and by ordinary citizens who simply and generously mobilized themselves to help. 

They have provided the displaced and traumatized refugees of the destroyed southern communities with housing, personal supplies, and food. They have provided assistance in locating missing persons and abductees. They have provided vital equipment for soldiers called up for duty. They have provided psychological assistance and social services for the injured in hospitals, and aid to the families of the murdered. They have provided help for the wives of reserve soldiers who’ve remained home alone, and taken part in Israeli public advocacy (hasbara) abroad, and much more. They have provided.

Israeli television is full of stories about these wonderful initiatives; the social networks are abuzz with the strong desire to give, to volunteer, to help. In this most terrible time, the spirit of generosity has soared, injecting a modicum of beauty amid all the ugliness.  Indeed, the people of Israel believe in themselves, and at an amazing rate: 96% of Israelis trust the grassroots volunteer organizations that have sprung up to pitch in.

Equally interesting is the trust Israelis have in the army. Despite the IDF’s abysmal failure to protect the country’s southern border, its commanders still have the trust of 75% of Jewish Israelis. Perhaps this is due to the heroism and determined fighting they displayed after the Hamas terrorists managed to carry out part of their plan. And the public’s trust in the IDF’s regular soldiers is even higher, reaching the phenomenal level of 98%. Probably because they are our fathers, our daughters, the brothers of all of us.

Israeli volunteers of all ages collect, cook and deliver BBQ sandwiches free of charge for the thousands of reserve soldiers stationed in the Golan Heights, October 10, 2023. Photo by Michael Giladi/Flash90

Against the horrors of this war, our faith in other Israelis, in people, also translates into a greater sense of unity. After months of political-social strife that had torn us apart, in the face of our common enemy, our willingness to give to one another, regardless of political or sectoral affiliation, has blossomed: 82% of Israelis now think that Israeli society is quite or very united.

Faced with the collapse of our leadership, we believe in ourselves. The Israeli spirit, the strength within each one of us, the desire and the ability of so many to give of themselves to others, or to enlist and serve in this war for our home, has reinforced the realization that our leadership is not worthy of trust – but that we “ordinary” Israelis who aren’t public office-holders, who bear no duty of office, are the ones capable of making Israel what it can be. Not divided along party lines. Not split over the July reforms. An Israel of brotherhood. Of people who believe in the Israeliness within us. In the face of this disaster, which will be branded in our flesh for generations to come, it will be of some solace if we can also store up, for the day after the war, this faith in ourselves. The Israeli spirit.

About the Author
Dr. Shuki Friedman is the vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a lecturer of law at the Peres Academic Center. His book, 'Being a Nation-State in the Twenty-First Century: Between State and “Synagogue” in Modern Israel' was recently published by Academic Studies Press.