Who would have thought it? A survey by the globally respected Pew Research Centre has shown that Israelis — a people surrounded on virtually all sides by dictators, theocrats and militant Islamists — are significantly more relaxed than the rest of the world on touchstone liberal issues such as homosexuality, premarital sex and abortion.
Given that a demographically proportionate number of the strictly-Orthodox responded to the questionnaire, it is a fair to assume that mainstream Israelis are even more socially permissive than the survey indicates. A majority of the population of Israel, besieged and militarised, is one of the most liberal in the world. A remarkable fact, but less counterintuitive than it appears.
Sociologists have observed that Israelis face such intense scrutiny and criticism from the rest of the world that they have responded by refusing to treat others with the same degree of prejudice. Another theory is that a people who face continuous threats to their security are less likely to expend energy on lower-priority matters, such as the sexual choices of fellow citizens.
Either way, Pew has opened a window on the Israeli psyche and what it reveals is a people battling to maintain their humanity — and equanimity — in the face of extraordinary headwinds.