Carole Nuriel
Carole Nuriel

Israeli society urgently needs a social vaccine

In the shadow of a year of pandemic, a new survey paints a disturbing picture for anyone who cherishes the country's resilience and cohesion

The resilience and fabric of Israeli society are subjects that have been on the agenda of Israel and Israeli society since the establishment of the state. Now, however, these subjects appear to be more critical than ever and a question mark seems to hover above Israel’s continued existence as a cohesive society. There is a growing feeling that Israeli society has never been more divided. 

This past year, which has presented us here in Israel, just as it has in other countries throughout the world, with complex challenges of an unprecedented nature, has put the subject of resilience and social solidarity to a very difficult test. First came the corona crisis and its impact on the various populations living in Israel and how minority communities have contended with it; this includes the encounter – in some cases clash – with law enforcement authorities and other populations in Israel. On top of that, we are facing a fourth election campaign in two years rife with political instability, which calls into question our ability as a society to reach a consensus. 

The combination of these two challenges has created, today more than ever, a genuine longing for leadership that focuses on society’s true needs, based on the understanding that social cohesion and solidarity are crucial not only as a major element of social resilience, but also as a vital growth engine for the day after the pandemic. In the absence of political and social stability, a vacuum has been created, into which is drawn a sense of social alienation, even hatred, with each sector or community looking out only for itself. 

Extreme events that undoubtedly unraveled the sense of social cohesion in Israel were numerous this year and still remain with us. We all recall the heated debates surrounding the violation of certain regulations in Haredi society, the mass celebrations and the opening of Haredi schools, along with the resentment provoked by the large weddings that have continued apace in the Arab sector. All of these events were often accompanied by sweeping generalizations of these sectors and in some cases, absolute delegitimization. It is undeniable that all these things have left their mark on the public sentiment towards these two sectors. In addition, the numerous demonstrations around the country, for and against, the anger towards the decision-making mechanisms, the added economic burden for many and the frustration at the duration of the pandemic – all these have been channeled into social fury that erupts at every event large and small. 

This is not based merely on a gut feeling. According to the results of a recent survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League Israel with the support of the EVZ Foundation, the full results of which will be presented at the Israel Social Cohesion Summit to be held in collaboration with YNET on March 9, the data reflect the same challenges that have assuredly left and continue to leave their mark on Israeli society.

In the survey, more than 50% of the respondents said that in wake of the corona crisis, their opinion of Haredi society has changed for the worse. Only 31% noted that they consider the Haredim an integral part of Israeli society. 

A similar sentiment toward the Arab population in Israel could be discerned among the respondents: only 30% said that they consider Israel’s Arab citizens an integral part of Israeli society. 

The survey further showed that more than 80% of the Israeli public is convinced that Israeli society is divided. This represents a steady rise since the 2017 survey, when 69% of the respondents said that they believed that Israel is divided.

The respondents clearly noted who they believe are responsible for the division and lack of cohesion. In first place is Israel’s political leadership, which 90% pointed to as responsible for the division, followed by the various types of media, both the traditional media and the social media and Internet, which 84% of the respondents view as responsible for the division. Some 74% of the respondents consider the religious establishment and rabbis responsible. The IDF is still perceived as the most unifying factor in Israeli society, and 61% of the respondents said that they believed that it contributes to unity more than any other element in society. 

The data obtained in the survey, combined with the events and spectacles we have been witness to in the past few months, the lively discussions almost to the point of violence, racism and extremism, paint a very disturbing picture for anyone who cherishes the resilience and cohesion of Israeli society. With only a few weeks to go before the national elections, the figure that underscores how Israelis feel about the negative contribution made by the politicians to Israeli unity should deeply concern those who seek Israelis’ votes for the fourth time in two years. 

The conclusion that must be drawn is perhaps the most self-evident of all: Our leaders must do more to fight division in Israeli society and adopt values of social cohesion and solidarity. The public is crying out for such leaders and our leaders must be more mindful of what the public wants. Things must be done on many levels and multi-systemically, with special attention to educating toward coexistence and serving as a role model. 

But the public has its own responsibility – it must not allow legitimate disagreements that exist in every human society to create walls of alienation between the different groups in society. It must try to be part of the social activism that works to create trust between the groups and fight any behavior that exemplifies the opposite of that. This is the only way we can restore Israeli society to a common path of agreement, understanding and trust. 

While Israel tops the international charts in terms of vaccinating its population against the coronavirus, we must all think about what we need to do on the day after the pandemic. How do we create a vaccination for Israeli society that will protect all parts of society from sweeping prejudicial generalizations, bigotry and hate? Beyond the social issues, perhaps the corona pandemic is offering us an opportunity to overhaul the system and rethink our paradigms in terms of overall solidarity. Now, as we move forward slowly but surely toward vaccinations and healing, these questions must also be at the focus of our attention. 

About the Author
Carole Nuriel is the director of ADL Israel.