A recent poll asked participants in 23 countries if they believe that their own society is “broken,” and then if they felt like “strangers in their own countries.” In particular, respondents were also asked about their trust in various institutions and their attitudes toward immigration. Evelyn Gordon comments on Israelis’ paradoxical answers:
[The pollsters’] theory was that low trust in institutions would correlate with high levels of belief that society was broken, while negative attitudes toward immigrants would correlate with high levels of feeling like a stranger in one’s own country. And there was, in fact, some correlation, albeit not perfect. . . . And then there was the one glaring exception: Israel. . . . Israel was among the top-ten most distrustful countries in all but one category; in most, it was in the top six. Yet when it came to the summary question of whether their society was broken, Israel suddenly plummeted to the bottom of the negativity rankings, with only 32 percent of Israelis agreeing. . . .
Two factors help explain Israel’s exceptional [answers to] this poll. One is simply that complaining is Israel’s national sport; Israelis routinely gripe about every aspect of their country. . . . But there’s also a deeper reason. Israelis understand that there is only one Jewish state, and for all its flaws, its very existence is something precious and worth preserving. That’s why 90 percent of Israelis define themselves as Zionist. For Zionism, at bottom, is simply the belief that the Jewish people has a right to its own state, and that a Jewish state therefore ought to exist.
This has enabled Israel to escape one of the ills besetting the modern West. In a world where elite opinion scorns both religion and the nation-state as anachronistic but has failed to provide any compelling source of identity to replace them, many Westerners have grown increasingly unsure of their identities. Hence, it’s no surprise that they feel like strangers in their own land—or as if their societies were broken.
Israelis, in contrast, are very confident of their identity: they are Jews living in the world’s only Jewish state. Thus, it’s impossible for most Israeli Jews to feel like strangers in their own country; this is the state created precisely so that all Jews, anywhere, will always have a home.