Public Opinion Update: Are we the Chosen People?

by Shmuel Rosner

Thousands of Jews gather at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (Photo: Reuters)

1.  Another Israeli poll proves that Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party is in a strong position – if elections were held today, it would get as many seats in the Knesset as the Likud Party. Good news for those who want Binyamin Netanyahu out? Not necessarily. Similarly to what happened in the last round of elections, the electoral picture is still one that gives the right-religious coalition a majority. That is to say: for Lapid to be the next PM (and the coalition can serve for another three years, so there is still a lot that can happen), he will need one of Netanyahu’s current members of the coalition to jump ship. Potential candidates: The Jewish Home Party, because of Naftali Bennet’s discomfort with Netanyahu; Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu, because of Lieberman’s discomfort with Netanyahu; Moshe Cahlon’s Kulanu, because of Cahlon’s discomfort with Netanyahu. So it is all personal – when it comes to policy, the Likud and Netanyahu are still in a better position to form the next coalition.Take a look at Israel’s updated poll numbers here.

2. The Obama era ends with an Israeli public that is highly skeptical about the President’s support for Israel. In the latest survey only 9% of Jewish Israelis defined him as “pro-Israel.” President elect Trump is seen, at least for now, as “pro-Israel.” 50% of the Israeli public say he is “more in favor of Israel” when asked about “the Israeli Palestinian sphere.”

3. Israel’s Peace Index survey presented an interesting question to Israeli Jews – but also a problematic one. “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘The Jewish people is the chosen people and hence is greater than other peoples?’”

Why interesting? Because it can tell us something about the state of mind of Jews in Israel. Why problematic? Because these are, in fact, two questions:

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘The Jewish people is the chosen people?”


“Do you agree or disagree that being the chosen people makes the Jews greater than other peoples?”

The concept of the chosen people has a long and complicated history. Surely, some interpreters of it believe it means that the Jews are “greater than other peoples.” But there are also many interpretations of chosen-ness that do not portray the Jews as greater than other peoples. Interpretations, for example, that understand chosen-ness as “having to shoulder more burden.”

41% of Jewish Israelis agreed with the statement: “The Jewish people is the chosen people and hence is greater than other peoples.” But let’s parse their response. If one does not agree that the Jews are a chosen people, one would not agree with the statement. If one agrees that they are the chosen people, one could still disagree with the statement. Or he might choose to agree, even though he does not agree with the second part of it (that the Jews are greater than other peoples).

The bottom line: the 55% of Jewish Israelis who disagree with the statement might still include Jews who agree that the Jews are the chosen people. The 41% who agree might still include people who disagree that the Jews are greater than other peoples. So what is the actual number of Israelis who believe that the Jewish people are the Chosen People? A 2013 survey by IDI might give us a hint, even though the question back then was still somewhat problematic. It was: “To what degree do you believe\disbelieve that the Jewish People is the Chosen People of all people?” 50% strongly believe in that. 14% more somewhat believe in that. That’s 64% – much higher than the 41% that the recent poll found. So one might conclude – with some evidence – that a quarter of Jewish Israelis do believe in the concept of Chosen-ness but do not believe it to mean that the Jews are “greater than other peoples.”

4. The Forward’s Jane Eisner (whom I briefly met in Israel this week) writes about Israeli Jews: “half of those polled were either slightly or not at all concerned about the increase in anti-Semitic incidents after the election.” I am not certain where these numbers come from, but here are two specific questions that were asked in the past week about the response of Israelis to anti-Semitism in America.

The Ruderman Family Foundation survey found that “an overwhelming majority of respondents (80%) expressed some concern about the increase in reported antisemitic incidents in the US since Trump’s victory on November 8. Of those respondents, 16% are very concerned, 32% concerned and the same number slightly concerned.”

An IDI survey found that 73% of Israeli Jews believe that the Israeli government should “intervene on behalf of American Jewry and use its ties with the U.S. administration to get it to counteract the antisemitic phenomena.”

So on the one hand, you do see sympathy and concern among Israelis. But to be honest: I do not think Israel is going to do or say much about domestic American affairs unless they become much more worrisome than they are today. But to conclude that (Jewish) Israelis do not care would be premature. They at least say that they do.