Human Rights Index – Survey No. 9, July 2023 part 2

>> اقرؤوا مسح تموز/ يوليو   2023 | For Arabic click here

For Israelis, democracy is not an empty concept. For a long time during 2023 that now feels like ancient history, before the tragedy of October 7th, Israelis demonstrated that they would not suffice with elections alone to fulfill their democratic rights. They took to the streets en masse in an impressive show of their commitment to preserve the institutions of democracy, and even more so the justice system that protects human and civil rights.

According to the annual survey of the Human Rights Index conducted in July 2023 by Zulat for Equality and Human Rights and the Institute for Liberty and Responsibility, the public widely and enthusiastically support basic rights such as equality before the law, indiscriminate equality between citizens, the right to vote and be elected, the right to health services and a dignified livelihood, and more.

At the same time, many Israelis believe that the state does not adequately protect these rights. The gap between their expectation from the state and the reality on the ground explains the zeal of many Israelis to come to the defense of the state’s institutions. They understand that these rights are only partially protected at present and that their weakening could actually affect their lives.

This gap between ideal and reality with regard to the protection of human rights in Israel is the main finding of this analysis. As mentioned, the survey was conducted before October 7th, and the findings therefore denote the views that prevailed before the Hamas attack and the ensuing war in Gaza.

Gap Between Public's Desires and State Actions

Regarding equality, the most fundamental value in a democracy, there is a large gap between the conviction that the state must protect it and confidence that it actually does. Asked how important it is for Israel to protect the right to equality before the law, no less than three-quarters of the Jewish respondents and a similar proportion of the Arab respondents said it was important “to a very large extent.” In total, combined with those who said “to a large extent,” an overwhelming majority of 91% replied that the state should preserve this right. However, less than half (38% of all respondents) believe the state is indeed protecting the right to equality before the law at present. This response reflects the inequality between different groups of citizens: only 42% of Jews believe the government protects equality before the law, while only a quarter of Arab respondents (24%) think so. Similarly, among respondents who defined themselves as ideologically right-wing, 47% said the state actually protects equality before the law, compared to 25% of those who defined themselves as left-wing.

A similar gap emerged in response to a question about “the right to equality between citizens, without any discrimination due to race, skin color, sex, language, religion, or political stance.” Some 86% of all respondents said it was important to a large or very large extent that Israel should protect this right, but only 35% said the state actually does so (“to a large” or “very large extent”). In this case, too, the gap between Jews and Arabs was significant: 38% of Jews said the state protects the right to equality against discrimination between citizens, but only 21% of Arabs thought the same.

Israeli society is also known for its high rate of participation in elections, another key instrument of democracy, even in relation to other democratic countries (though this rate has declined since the first decades of the state). Of the 12 human and civil rights explored, the gap between ideal and reality about the right to vote in Knesset elections was the smallest in the current survey as well. The consensus among 94% of Israelis was that it was important to protect this right and 81% said the state does protect it. But here, too, there is a significant difference between Jewish and Arab voters: 86% of Jews said the state actually protects the right to vote, while only 59% of Arabs thought so.

In light of the disagreements about the legal system that have torn Israeli society apart in the past year, the most evident gap in the survey between the desire to protect rights and their actual fulfillment concerns the field of law and law enforcement. Consensus also exists in Israeli society on the importance of protecting the right to a fair legal process: 93% of all respondents said it was important to a large or very large extent. Nevertheless, only a third (32%) said the state was actually protecting this right in practice.

In several other areas, the gap between ideal and reality is also very large: the right to earn a dignified living is considered important to a large or very large extent by 95% of the respondents, but only 43% believe the state is indeed promoting it. A significant gap also emerged regarding the right to marry freely in Israel: 69% of all respondents said the state should protect this right, and only 25% believe it is promoting it today. Although the right to marry freely received the lowest support among the 12 rights surveyed, the findings show that a clear majority (almost 70%) favor it. Not surprisingly, 90% of secular Jews said it was important that the state should protect this right, in stark contrast with the ultra-Orthodox, of which a mere 12% thought so and another 71% replied that this was not an important right. Among traditionalists, three quarters said the right to marry freely was important to a large or very large extent.

The results of the survey show that the public want the state to improve and strengthen its commitment to promote human and civil rights in a variety of areas, ranging from the right to vote and be elected, the right to equality between citizens, the social right to a earn a dignified living and to health services, all the way to the right to freedom of religion, expression, and demonstration.

Public Split on Perception of Rights

At the same time, the survey indicates that the public is not only split about the protection of rights by the state, but also in its perception of liberal-democratic values. For example, 80% of the Jewish respondents said it was very important that the state should protect the right to vote in Knesset elections (another 15% said it was largely important), but only 64% thought as much with regard to the right to be elected to the Knesset (another 26% said it was largely important). Even among Arab respondents, a lower proportion thought it was very important that the state should protect the right to be elected (57%) as opposed to the right to vote (66%).

Among Jewish respondents, the lower support for the right to be elected to the Knesset relative to the right to vote probably has to do with Israel’s Arab citizens. Indeed, despite the ubiquitous support for protection of the right to equality before the law (94% of Jews said it was important to a large or very large extent and 87% said as much about protecting the right to indiscriminate equality), when asked to what extent the state should ensure equality between Jews and Arabs, only half of all Jewish respondents (and 39% of right-wingers) said the state should ensure equality to a large or very large extent.

The differences were even more pronounced in response to the question of whether the Israeli government grants equal rights to Arab citizens. While 61% of the Jewish respondents agreed with this assertion to some extent (“very much” or “somewhat”), only 21% of the Arab respondents said the same. The gap between Jews and Arabs regarding the actual reality presumably reflects the different life experiences of the two groups, which influence their perspectives.

Not surprisingly, what undermines Israelis’ commitment to basic democratic values is the Jewish-Arab divide. The chasm remains almost the same as in our survey of December 2022, before the current government was established, the “legal reform” was announced, and demonstrations by a democratic protest movement swept vast segments of the public.

Compared to the lukewarm support for promoting Jewish-Arab equality, 80% of Jews said Israel should ensure equality between men and women (there was sweeping agreement on this subject among both Jews and Arabs, 78% in total). The issue of equality for same-sex couples garnered higher support among the Jewish public: 71% thought they should be granted equal rights (among secular Jews there was overwhelming support of 89%, while support among traditionalist Jews was 82%). The Arab public was less supportive on this issue: only 29% agreed that same-sex couples should be granted equal rights, compared to 73% in favor of the stance that the state should ensure equality between Jews and Arabs.

These trends show that support for democratic-liberal values of equality is not based on consistent principles, but rather on social identity and circumstances that produce different perspectives.

In light of the weakness of democratic principles, manifested in the perception of rights as dependent on context and their “conditional” rather than universal acceptance, it is not surprising either that many Israelis fail to make the connection between the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the stability of democracy in Israel. For example, when asked whether “the violation of human rights by the Israeli government in Judea and Samaria threatens the democratic character of the State of Israel,” more Jewish respondents disagreed (45% “did not agree so much” or “did not agree at all”), compared to 41% who agreed to some extent (quite agree or very much). Among Arab respondents, on the other hand, a total of 70% agreed (50% strongly agreed and 20% quite agreed) with the assertion that the violation of the human rights of Palestinians threatens Israel’s democratic character.

In conclusion, Israeli society shows a partial commitment to the values of equality and human and civil rights. The strongest support emerges in response to the basic questions examining the extent to which the state should promote these rights. Although in many cases a majority of the respondents criticize the state for not doing enough to promote human rights, it seems that when it comes to granting rights to various minority groups in society, especially Arab citizens, gaps and contradictions emerge between their fundamental views about human rights, their application in practice, and the extent to which they should be granted equitably to all Israeli citizens.

This survey was conducted for the Human Rights Index of Zulat for Equality and Human Rights and Reichman University’s Institute for Liberty and Responsibility on 24-31 July 2023. The questions and the analysis of the findings were written by Dr. Dalia Sheindlin. The data was collected online by the iPanel company from 1,611 adults (1,302 Jews and 309 Arabs, in Hebrew and Arabic respectively), who constitute a representative sample of Israeli society. The maximum sampling error is 2.4%. The findings were weighted according to the results of the November 2022 Knesset election.


Dr. Maha Sabbah Karkabi


Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Tel Aviv University (2015), a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Gender Studies, SOAS, University of London (2015-2016), a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Sociology at Tel Aviv University (2016-2017), and a postdoctoral fellowship Ph.D. at the Humphrey Institute for Social Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2018-2020).
Dr. Maha Karbahi’s areas of interest focus on the connection between social change, family behavior, and gender inequality in societies in the process of change and specifically in Palestinian Arab society in Israel. Her research draws attention to the study of family life and employment, using a combined “ethnic lens” and “gender lens” and paying attention to the perspective of Palestinian Arab women, a group characterized by intersections between multiple marginal locations, which over the years has remained hidden from the research eye. Dr. Karkabi-Sabah’s research is published in professional journals and chapters in scientific books that are considered pioneers in family research, work, and gender equality.


Prof. Frances Raday

Professor Emeritus in the Lieberman Chair in Labor Law, in the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University and serves as a full professor in the College of Management’s academic track, where she also serves as chair of the graduate program and as honorary president of the Concord Center for International Law Absorption. Radai was a member of a working group of the UN Human Rights Council on discrimination against women. In addition, she is a prominent and feminist human rights activist.


Dr. Rawia Aburabia 

Faculty member of Sapir Academic College’s School of Law, received her PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research deals with the interface between law, gender, minorities, and human rights. Has published in leading journals on the subject of the matrimonial laws pertaining to Muslim women in Israel. Her book Under the Law, Outside Justice: Polygamy, Gendered Citizenship, and Colonialism in Israeli Law is expected to be published as part of the Gender Series of Kibbutz Meuhad Publishing House.

Dr. Aburabia has extensive experience in international human rights and public law. She has worked as a jurist for the Association for Civil Right and has been invited as a specialist to address such international forums as the United Nations and the European Parliament on the subject of indigenous communities and minority rights. She has interned with Human Rights Watch in Washington DC, and has been a member of the executive board of Amnesty International. In 2018, she was selected by the magazine Globes as one of the 40 most promising young persons in Israel under the age of 40.



Ron Kessler

With over two decades of experience in the field of digital content, Ron has participated in numerous political and social campaigns. He helped run the digital activity of senior public officials, and worked in various NGOs. Ron is a fundamentally optimistic man, who believes that Israel can be changed and so can people. Lives in Tel Aviv.