Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Understanding Israel’s Political Crisis: Employing the World Values Survey

Political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel assert that there are two major dimensions of cross-cultural variation in the world:

  1. Traditional valuesversus secular-rational values and
  2. Survival values versus self-expression values

Created in 1981, the World Values Survey (WVS) has become one of the most widely employed cross national studies, involving over 120 societies or approximately 95% of the global population.

If the reader wants to see how these values lay out across the global, I invite you to open this website:

The global cultural map shows how scores of societies are located on these two dimensions. Moving upward on this map reflects the shift from Traditional Values to Secular-Rational and moving rightward reflects the shift from Survival Values to Self-Expression values.

Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.

Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable.

Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively  ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.

Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.[1]


The World Values Surveys grew out of a study launched by the European Values Survey group (EVS)… In 1981, the EVS carried out surveys in ten West European societies; it evoked such widespread interest that it was replicated in 12 additional countries. Findings from these surveys suggested that pervasive and partially predictable cultural changes were taking place. To monitor these changes, a new wave of surveys was launched, this time designed to be carried out globally. Inglehart organized the surveys in non-European countries and in several East European countries. WVS Participants from nearly 40 societies on all six inhabited continents met in Spain in September 1993 to evaluate results of the first two waves of surveys. Coherent patterns of change in a wide range of key values were observed from 1981 to 1990. To monitor these changes and probe more deeply into their causes and consequences, the group agreed to carry out additional waves of research in 1995 and 2000; and began designing the 1995 wave. This wave gave special attention to obtaining better coverage of non-Western societies and to analyzing the development of a democratic political culture in the emerging Third Wave democracies.[2]

What Might It Mean for Israel and the Jewish People?

 While most Jews today live in what we would classify as “Western societies,” that has certainly not been the case for significant portions of Sephardic, Mizrachi and other Jews, whose ancestry and national roots are more readily connected to Southwest Asia, North Africa and the former Soviet Union. For much of the 20th Century, large segments of these Jewish Diaspora communities were living in non-Democratic regimes, where the focus on a survival/traditional orientation de-emphasized the primacy of the individual over the welfare of the state.

The deeper religious orientation of some Jews reflects another component of how democratic, secular, liberal values can be seen in conflict with more traditional norms of belief and practice.

The Survey raises some challenging questions on how nation-states acquire liberal values and embrace liberal democratic ideas, and when such viewpoints are rejected in favor of returning to or favoring more traditional or non-liberal political behaviors.

If we note today in Israel, as an example, a growing connection with authoritarian ideas of governance (Platform of the 37th Government of the State of Israel) and a renewed focus on traditional religious ideology (Religious Zionism), the origins of some of these political ideas and the political cultural accommodation to such non-Western democratic principles would suggest that such values and practices can be reintroduced in a society by ethnic sub-communities and individuals, whose religious beliefs and political experiences have been fundamentally different.

When and if individuals and communal groups whose families grew up under authoritarian systems feel disconnected from liberal political ideas, are they likely to hold a distinctive affinity for more conservative cultural, religious and political modes of practice? Correspondingly, those persons who have grown up in a religious-centered culture may likely have difficulty with liberal political ideas which are seen as threatening to and undermining of their life-styles and beliefs.

Indeed, in a number of Western nations, we see similar political patterns, where a liberal orientation is rejected for a more hard-line approach in shaping national policies. Poland and Hungry represent but two such European examples. The rise of far-right parties in a number of countries, including France and Germany, may indicate a similar outcome.


The application of the World Values Survey maybe a helpful device in better understanding political motives and social beliefs. The focus on secular-rational vs. survival perceptions about how societies ought to govern, either emphasizing the primacy and rights of the individual in contrast to nation-states that are directed toward a more centralized form of rule. As WVS considers as well secular and traditional values, this measure can also serve as an important tool in understanding more “orthodox” or traditional religious political viewpoints.

What seems evident in societies where the political culture is not shared by most of its constituent elements, divisions over governance and beliefs about national identity are likely to be in tension. Israel at 75 can be seen as a relatively new nation-state, where there does not exist today a commonly held belief system about the character and nature of its national identity. The Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel remains unresolved, contributing to the political instability that this society is currently experiencing.




About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.