Survey shows Israelis to be among world’s most liberal

By Nathan Jeffay, May 1, 2014
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Revellers at Gay Pride Tel Aviv (Photo: Flash 90)

Revellers at Gay Pride Tel Aviv (Photo: Flash 90)

In an international “morality” survey, Israelis have emerged as more relaxed than the average global citizen on a range of issues including homosexuality and pre-marital sex.

Across the 40 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Centre, an average of 46 per cent of respondents said that pre-marital sex was wrong and 24 per cent said it was acceptable. In Israel, fewer people disapproved — 37 per cent. Approval of pre-marital sex was some 12 per cent above than the global average.

On homosexuality, 59 per cent of people across all nationalities said it was unacceptable, while only 43 per cent of Israelis took this view. Only 20 per cent globally said that homosexuality was acceptable, but in Israel the figure was 27 per cent.

What is more, one in four Israelis said that homosexuality was not an issue for moral judgment, while among everyone polled only 13 per cent voiced this opinion.

There was a big gulf between Israeli and global attitudes on abortion, with only 35 per cent of Israelis against, while globally the figure was 56 per cent. Israelis were also slightly more permissive on extramarital affairs than the average, with 11 per cent of respondents saying they were acceptable compared to 7 per cent elsewhere.

Haifa University sociologist Sammy Smooha said that the results matched his reading of Israeli society. “Israel is reactionary on the question of the Arabs, on settlements, but not on social issues, on which Israelis are very liberal,” he said.

But what of Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims? Mitchell Barak, a pollster, said that the fact that Israelis come out of the Pew survey with such permissive attitudes despite the impact of these groups indicates that mainstream Israel is among the most liberal populations in the world.

“The rest of the country has an attitude of live and let live,” he said. “Some of it stems from an attitude that Israel is always under scrutiny and criticism, so within Israel people don’t want to criticise the lifestyles of others.” He said that he thought the Orthodox actually push the mainstream to take more permissive attitudes, because they regard doing so as an act of rebellion against the religious establishment.

Both Dr Smooha and Mr Barak expect Israeli attitudes to become less permissive over the coming years. “Israel will probably become less liberal as Arab, Charedi and other Orthodox groups grow,” said Dr Smooha.

There were two surprises in the poll. One was the fact that Israelis are more liberal on gambling even though there is little gambling culture as it is illegal. The other was the single category in which Israelis were less permissive than others — contraception, even though it is in widespread use.

IN NUMBERS

40 Countries surveyed

12% More Israelis approve of premarital sex than the global average

7% More Israelis say homosexuality is acceptable than the global average

21% Fewer Israelis oppose abortion

Last updated: 2:28pm, May 1 2014