Modern democracies contain a core to convert the will of the people into public policy in the form of legislation via national elections. Since diplomacy is a highly specialized policy field, it was thought in monarchies historically that, for foreign policy to make sense, it should rest in the hands of the sovereign rulers. The old common sense has developed into a new one, in which every policy is under public scrutiny through the democratization process except perhaps diplomacy. At first, specialists criticized the effect of public opinion on foreign policy. Almond (1950) warned that electorates are often irresponsible in foreign relations because of their ignorance, sluggishness, and obliviousness.

Thus, are ordinary citizens able to understand the national interest in order to evaluate foreign policies? First, we will investigate Hans Morgenthau’s famous definition of national interest, the concept of national interest defined in terms of power. It is not an easy task even for professionals, such as diplomats or political scientists, to examine how much power a state has. Since it is assumed that the task is almost impossible for ordinary people, advocates of elitism have a good excuse to neglect the role of public opinion in the decision-making process of foreign policy (Almond, 1950; Lippmann, 1922).

This understanding, however, has been transformed with political developments in modern democratic countries. As Walz (1979) says: “Entailed in the national interest is the notion that diplomatic and military moves must at times be carefully planned lest the survival of the state be in jeopardy.” His concept makes power calculation simple and means simply a careful concern for national security. In this definition, it is possible for ordinary citizens to assess foreign policies in consideration of the national interest.

Modern political elites in democracies need popular support to make critical decisions, such as waging war. Governments need elaborate media strategies to galvanize public opinion to support a war policy. A mature democratic system is, then, established on the assumption that the people can comprehend the national interest and evaluate diplomatic efforts in order to serve it.

The national interest, however, is a fluctuating and social concept rather than an obvious or rigid one. Finnemore (1996) , in an influential work using the constructivist paradigm in international relations, proposes national norms that define state interests. A constructivist hypothesis suggests the notion that national interest varies according to the content of a collective identity in a society (Hall, 1999). If this were true, the structure of social cleavages between different identities would produce multiple national interests in a society.

The majority of empirical research on the link between foreign policy and public opinion has been conducted in the United States, and several studies have been carried out in European countries. Because the population of these countries is large, only a small proportion of ordinary people are directly affected by foreign affairs. If a small democratic country faces an international crisis, the conscript risk affects a greater portion of citizens than in larger countries. The citizens in a small country need to more seriously consider the risks of foreign policy options when there are national crises.

In this paper, we examine the effect of religious beliefs on attitudes towards foreign policy in a small democratic country with a strong collective identity: the state of Israel. On one hand, the Israelis have a collective identity, Judaism, and have practiced democracy for more than sixty years. On the other hand, Israel suffers from a secular-religious cleavage within Judaism. The rift over collective identity often creates political disputes about their national integrity. The policy towards the occupied territories is one of the most contentious issues and disputes arise from ideologies, national security concerns, and religious devotion. As several studies recognize, it remains unclear how to explain theoretically the mechanisms through which religious beliefs influence foreign and security policy (Bader & Froese, 2005; Glazier, 2013; Guth, 2006; Guth et al., 1996; Warner & Walker, 2011). This study tries to discover the missing link between religious identities and foreign policy.

In the following section, we review the literature and propose a hypothesis for the link between diplomacy and the religious identities of Jews in Israel. The second section explains data from an original survey in Israel that measured evaluations of war and peace policies, and described the secular-religious typology in the Israeli social context. The third section explains the research strategy for empirical analysis and shows the level of support for the hypothesis. Although our empirical approach is rarely applied in the social science literature, we show that our method improves upon the traditional approaches to controlling for confounding factors. The final section discusses the results and indicates some theoretical implications.


In the past few centuries, no significant advances have been made in the normative theory about public opinion on foreign policy in democracies, with a few exceptions. Kant (1795/1996) presented a comprehensive understanding of the topic, and we start the review of his argument as our start (Fujiwara, 2010; Iida & Shiro, 2014).

The republican constitution offers the prospect of perpetual peace. The basis for this is as follows. When the consent of the citizens of a state is required in order to decide whether there shall be war or not and it cannot be otherwise in this constitution, nothing is more natural than that the political leaders will be very hesitant to start a war. The citizens would have to decide to take upon themselves all the hardship of war such as doing the fighting and paying the costs of the war, and painfully restoring any devastation the war leaves behind. (Kant, 1795/1996, p. 323).

Nowadays, this argument is the basis for research on democratic peace (Doyle, 1986; Russett, 1993). Democratic peace studies developed the theoretical concept of domestic audience costs for the micro-foundation (Fearon, 1994). The audience costs hypothesis is empirically supported by a few experimental survey studies (Kohno, 2013; Tomz, 2007; Tomz & Weeks, 2013). These empirical studies also find evidence connecting foreign policy and public opinion, but are limited by the absence of external validity (Kurizaki & Whang, 2014). That is, ordinary citizens are irresponsible in contemporary diplomacy, and even a relatively well-educated electorate lacks enough knowledge about national restrictions imposed by treaties to consider foreign affairs (Almond, 1950; Holsti, 2004; Nicolson, 1963). The argument may be suitable for large countries, such as the United States, European countries, and Japan. However, it is not appropriate for a small democratic country such as Israel because of its sensitivity to damage and the burden of war. The case of Israel is better suited for Kant’s theory.

The September 11, 2001 attacks led a certain number of social scientists to rediscover the faith factor in politics. “The crush of civilizations” became a highly influential paradigm for viewing global politics among generalists in the first decade of the 21st century (Huntington, 1996). Social scientists preferred the academic literature, such as “religious nationalism,” as an emerging ideology in conflict zones in place of secular nationalism (Juergensmeyer, 1993). They also used “strong religion” to explain how to interpret religious extremists (Almond et al., 2003). Despite its growing importance, religion is a marginal topic in political science. Wald and Wilcox (2006), therefore, call for political scientists to focus on religious-secular conflicts. Needless to say, there has recently been significantly less consideration of the influence of religion in shaping public opinion on foreign affairs (Baumgartner et al., 2008, p. 171). Although Rebecca Glazier addresses the connection of religious beliefs to foreign policy issues in the application of a survey experiment, she admits that it remains unclear “exactly how religion might influence political attitudes” (2013, pp. 138–139).

Israel is established on Zionism as the foundation of the state, so we can regard every behavior, activity, and policy in line with Zionism as in the national interest. The founding fathers of Israel sought to preserve the existence of Jews and selected the route of building a nation-state to escape external domination. Zionists argue that their understanding of the world is similar to that of the realists in international relations (Harkabi, 1988, Chapter 5). Zionism, meanwhile, is connected to the fundamental concepts of Judaism and inseparable from the Promised Land, which is one of the important territorial concepts.[1] This connection leads to a problem regarding the dissimilarity between the land of Israel and the Promised Land. Indeed, successive Israeli governments have considered the concept of land for peace, a conflict resolution policy produced by strategic thinking about the territories. Consequently, land for peace is a possible option in international relations realist thinking, but it is incompatible with the principles of religious Zionism, which regards the Promised Land as containing all of the areas of the West Bank as an indivisible part of its territory.

This incompatibility resembles Miller’s (2008) argument exploring the cause of regional conflict and peace. Miller demonstrates that the determinant of war-proneness is neither the pole structures of the international system nor the balance of power. It is important in his theory to look for the state-to-nation imbalance, which means a lack of congruence between the states and national identifications. Middle East war-proneness comes from the existence of nationalist and revisionist ideologies both in Arab countries and in Israel, such as pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism, Greater Syria, revisionist Zionism, and the incoherent state systems that seek to redress the imbalance. We can investigate public opinion in Middle Eastern countries in order to test Miller’s state-to-nation balance theory.

Arian (1995, pp. 166–168) provides the most comprehensive analysis of survey datasets about Israeli attitudes toward national security. Arian uses religiosity, a major social cleavage, to examine the link between religious identification and political issues such as the return of the occupied territories. The religious-secular divide correlates statistically with Jewish attitudes toward the use of force in Barzilai and Inbar (1996). Yuchtman-Ya’ar and Peres (2000, p. 52) demonstrate that secularism is the most influential factor in determining people’s attitude toward tolerance, the preference of democracy over nationalism, trust in public institutions, and their position on the dovish-hawkish continuum in the Arab-Israel conflict. Hermann and Yuchtman-Ya’ar (2002) underscore that religiosity consistently has the strongest influence on Israeli attitudes toward the Oslo process. The religious-secular divide is also statistically significant in explaining the variance of xenophobia, that is, attitudes of fear or hatred directed toward certain groups in Israel (Lewin-Epstein & Levanon, 2005). The empirical findings of the democratic performance evaluation suggest that religiosity is strongly correlated with prejudice, political intolerance, and undemocratic norms (Ben-Nun-Bloom et al., 2011).

The territories of Israel have been thought to be interconnected with the norms and the concepts of Zionism. The Zionist ideology provides the religious foundation for defense of national homeland and no compromise about territories with Palestinians to the Jewish Israelis, especially religious Jews. Even though national security is vital to the national interests, the religious Jewish citizens consider that occupied territories are important not because of the necessity of the strategic depth against belligerent nations but because of a part of the Promised Land in their religious identification of submission to the will of God. The above review leads us to expect that:

Hypothesis: Secular-religious identities, or the religiosity of Judaism, will significantly predict attitudes toward future options and past achievements in Israeli foreign and security affairs as well as various territorial compromises.

Data and Measurement

To assess the impact of religiosity on evaluations of past and future security policies, we compare the evaluations of secular and non-secular Jews in Israel. The data for this study come from the Israel Poll of the Middle Eastern Public Opinion Research Project. The survey data were collected from October 30 to November 7 in 2011 by the Dahaf research institute, an Israeli public opinion research company. Dahaf conducted phone interviews using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing in Hebrew and Russian with a representative national sample of the 18 years and older Jewish population. A sample of 680 Jewish citizens was drawn stratified by demographic sector, or immigrants from the former Soviet Union, religious profile of the town’s population, characteristics of residential neighborhoods, size of town, and gender, based on the categorization of the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel. One in five Israelis came from the former Soviet Union (21%) and more than half of the citizens identified themselves as secular (52%). The author and my collaborators prepared survey questionnaires to measure assessments of peace and war policies, the changing international environment as well as some future diplomatic issues. We used a Likert-type scales to measure the citizens’ responses to the question “From the viewpoint of national interests, how do you evaluate the following historical and potential events in future?” There are 5 response categories from very good [5] to very bad [1]. Table 1 shows a descriptive statistics of dependent variables about Peace and War policies, changing regional environment, future crisis, and unresolved issues.

Table 1. Summary Statistics

Measuring Evaluations of Peace Policies

The category of peace policies in our dataset contains the Oslo Accord, the Peace Treaty with Jordan, the withdrawal from South Lebanon, and the demolition of settlements in the Gaza Strip. The Oslo Accords of September 1993 are a historical event in the Arab-Israeli conflict. They involved an impressive scene in which Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the lawn of the White House. The Palestinians established autonomy in Ramallah the next year and from there, the sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority spread over a part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan in October 1994, making the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan the second Arab country formally at peace with Israel after Egypt.

In two decades, the government of Israel decided twice to withdraw from parts of the occupied territories. First, Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered the IDF to withdraw from South Lebanon in spite of the presence of Hizbullah, a hostile armed force supported by Iran. Second, the Sharon administration faced severe resistance from settlers in making the decision to demolish the settlements in Northern Gaza, under the rule of Hamas, another hostile Islamist military force. The purposes of these withdrawals were the same, to avoid armed conflict with the enemies in the occupied territories. There was greater opposition to the withdrawal from Gaza than to that from South Lebanon because of the presence of the settlements.

Measuring Evaluations of War Policies

The state of Israel carried out three military campaigns in the first decade of the millennium. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to conduct Operation Defensive Shield against Palestinian militants and even against his negotiating partner, Yasser Arafat. The government system of the Palestinian Authority reformed by creating the post of prime minister as a new negotiating partner for Israel.

The second Lebanon war was fought between the IDF and Hizbullah in the summer of 2006. The Olmert administration failed to negotiate for the release of abducted soldiers and made a decision to wage the 34 Days War. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also conducted a war against Hamas during his administration, called Operation Cast Lead or the Gaza War in the winter of 2008–2009. The methods of the operation were mainly air strikes and a minimum of ground battles. The tactics therefore seem to have saved the lives of more soldiers in comparison with the Second Lebanon War.

Changing Regional Environment

Since 2000, the Middle East has changed, and it seems to have had some effect on Israeli foreign policy. The Bush administration launched the Iraq War in the spring of 2003. As a consequence, it removed the Hussein regime and provided favorable conditions for Israel. It is unclear whether the Egyptian uprising, the January 25 revolution in 2011, produced a safer environment for the state of Israel, because of the confusing diplomatic stance of the Morsi administration, which kept the peace treaty with Israel despite its support for Hamas in Gaza. The Arab Spring spilled over to other regions in the Middle East, and induced a severe and endless war between Bashar al-Asad and Syrian dissidents. Syria is now a failed state that armed radical Islamist forces have turned into a terrorist base. The situation is also unclear for Israel, as the Baathist regime was an enemy, but such disorder increases the risk of weapons proliferation and border incidents.

Future Crisis and Unresolved Issues

The state of Israel faces several unfolding issues; some of them carry risk, and others are a threat to national security. The most sensitive issue is the construction of the settlements in the West Bank in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The government of Israel decided several times to freeze construction projects in the settlements in the past decades, but they have resumed with the failure of the peace talks or from the pressure of radicals in Israeli society.

Iran’s nuclear program is the most serious concern not only for Israeli national security, but also for the regional stability in the Middle East from the viewpoint of Western countries. The Israeli political leadership has campaigned to alert the danger of Iran’s ambition to develop nuclear weapons and its threat to destroy the existence of the Jewish state. Though the current government of Iran takes part in the international nuclear talks, Israel does not hesitate to consider the strategic option of preemptive attack on the nuclear sites in Iran.

It is widely recognized that the largest obstacle to peace is the continuing occupation of the West Bank. The substance of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is concerned with to what extent are Israelis able to compromise on the territories. Since this is identical to a zero-sum game, such a structure makes the conflict intractable. In addition, faith and nationalism increase in complexity of the territorial issue.


In the field of Israeli sociology, religious identification or religiosity in Judaism falls into four categories: Ultra-Orthodox, religious, traditional, and secular. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim in Hebrew, are easily identified because of their clothing: A man wears a black frock coat and a black hat to represent his piety. They spend their life studying the Torah and strictly adhere to Halakhah, the collective body of Jewish religious laws. Religious Jews, or Datim, follow Orthodox Judaism and are considered the mainstream faction in the state of Israel. Orthodox rabbis, Jewish priests, control religious courts and religious administrations in Israeli society because of their adoption of Zionism. Both Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox have their own education systems with public support for the institutional reproduction of their communities. Religious Jews, especially the Ultra-Orthodox, live together and have a community within themselves.

The traditional, or Masorti, is a recently created category for people who cannot identify with religious or secular Judaism. They respect Jewish tradition, culture, and rituals and follow religious practices more than secularists do. Many traditionalists are more open to civil society, but feel pressure from the Haredi and Dati camps to abandon religion. Masortim also face pressure from secularists for not being modern (Sorek & Ceobanu, 2009, p. 481). Despite these differences, we created a “non-secular” category that includes Haredim, Datim, and Masortim for the purpose of convenience.

Secular citizens have different lifestyles from the non-secular. They are almost half the population in Israel and are well established in politics, judicial circles, and the army. Israeli secular identity is widely regarded as non-observant of religious law or Halakhah and is associated with emptiness by non-secular Jews (Liebman & Yadgar, 2009, p. 149). It is common for secular citizens to have various public viewpoints because of being in the majority but to have a tendency to view the religious with displeasure. Since Haredim, in particular, are exempt from serving in the military, ordinary Israelis feel that the exemption is unfair. The control of marital laws by the Orthodox faction is inconvenient for some secularists who want a more liberal lifestyle (such as a marriage to a gentile partner or a same-sex marriage). Moreover, there is the possibility that different educational systems provide misinterpretations and religious prejudice against each other. The religious-secular dichotomy is a useful concept for analyzing contemporary Israeli society.

The Impact of Religiosity on the Attitudes toward Foreign Policies

Social scientists are often interested in finding causation in a society, but it is difficult to ascertain true causality even through statistical analysis. A main problem with statistical analysis is the difficulty of removing confounding factors. To solve this problem, we relied on regression models and derivational methods, such as binomial logistic regressions or multinomial probit models, with control variables. The solution of the regression, however, forces us to build a suitable model specification without omitted variables. This is not easy because a problematic specified model implies a bias in the estimate, which calculates an overvalued or underestimated coefficient of the independent variable.

Empirical Strategy

The estimation of the impact of religious identification has another constraint because of confounding factors among Jewish citizens. There are many differences between secular and non-secular Jews in education, occupation, size of family, and monthly expenditure. The impact of religiosity on security policies may be affected by the interaction of demographic factors and control variables, so researchers must consider numerous combination patterns of the interactions in the regression models for effective estimates. In other words, attention must be given to addressing dimensionality.

One solution to control confounders is propensity score matching, proposed by Rosenbaum and Rubin (1983). This method has an advantage that reduces bias in estimations of religious impact. Propensity score means a predictive probability to a treatment group estimated from the existence of confounding factors.[2] Using the propensity score, we must data match to get the estimates of secularism as the treatment group on the attitudes to foreign policies described as average treatment effects (ATE). The matching algorithm employed is the Kernel matching method, proposed by Heckman et al. (1998), with bootstrapping to estimate standard errors of the ATE. The analysis was conducted using an add-on program for STATA developed by Becker and Ichino (2002).

Table 2. Estimation of the Propensity Score of Secular

Table 2 presents the covariates used to estimate the propensity score of secular Jews. The criterion for covariate selection comes from regression models in the literature. Arian (1995); Baumgartner et al. (2008); Ben-Nun-Bloom et al. (2011); Sorek and Ceobanu (2009); Yuchtman-Ya’ar and Peres (2000); and Zaidise, Canetti-Nisim, and Pedahzur (2007) controlled ideology and demographics in the models for their estimations of religious effect. Table 2 shows that all covariates are significant for the estimated score of the treatment group without considering gender. The indicators of ideological values are the feeling thermometers of three political parties: Kadima, Likud, and the Labor party. Kadima was, at the time, a new party formed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who defected from the Likud party on the eve of the national election in 2006. Kadima occupied the majority of the Israeli parliament and represented the central position in the political context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the time the polls were conducted. Likud is a major political party on the nationalist right, and it has produced five prime ministers. Labor is another veteran party, regarded as the left for adopting social democratic policies and a conciliatory approach toward the Palestinians.


Table 3 shows three statistics: the differences in the means between secular and non-secular groups from Table 1 (column 1); the coefficients on secularism in the ordered logit models (column 2); and estimations of average treatment effects (ATE) on the ordered categorical dependent variable (column 3), with a bias-corrected 95 percent confidence interval obtained by the Kernel matching method using the bootstrap option. The differences of the means are simple and rough indicators with no control of confounding factors. The ordered logit estimators are helpful as a typical traditional method to compare the significance of the estimates of the ATE on secular-religious identities.

Generally, the ordered logit estimators are more similar to the naïve differences of the means than the estimated values of the ATE. The logistic estimators on secularism are statistically significant predictors of attitudes toward the Oslo agreement, the IDF withdrawal from Gaza, the Gaza war in 2008–2009, and a future military strike on Iranian reactors. However, the 95 percent confidant intervals of the ATE in the secular-religious divide contains zero, and the results are insignificant to predict the attitudes to these events. The different results between columns 2 and 3 in Table 3 mean that the traditional method, the ordered logit model, is not sufficient to correct for the bias induced by omitted interaction patterns of combinations of control variables.

The ATE of secularism passes the 5 percent significance level on the evaluations of Operation Defensive Shield, enlargement of settlements, the independence of a Palestinian state, and a compromise treatment with the occupied territories on the principle of land for peace. As can be seen in Table 3, secular Israelis assess Operation Defensive Shield—the largest military operation in the West Bank since the Six-Day War—at an average 0.358 points lower than religious Jews. The secular evaluation of settlement enlargement in the West Bank is calculated to be 0.727 points lower than the religious group’s evaluation. Secularists give 0.463 points of additional support to a future independent Palestinian state compared with the religious. The land for peace settlement is given a 0.432-point positive assessment by secular citizens. The logistic models for these events also provide significant regressors, as noted in Table 3, but the effects of secular-religious identities in column 2 are overestimated compared with the values in column 3.

The results in Table 3 show that secular-religious identity significantly predicts attitudes toward some future options and toward some achievements in Israeli foreign and security affairs. The predictable issues are related only to the occupied territories in the West Bank. From the viewpoint of the national interest, non-secular Israeli citizens have a more negative attitude toward making compromises regarding the territories than secularists. However, the secular-religious cleavage provides no explanation for the difference of opinion on peace policies, political changes among neighboring countries, the future possibility of a strike on Iranian nuclear reactors, or war policies, with the exception of Operation Defensive Shield.

TABLE 3. Impact of Religiocity on Peace, War Policies, Changing Environments, and Future Crises


This study demonstrates the effect of religious belief on attitudes toward Israeli foreign policy. Previous studies underscore secular-religious identity as the strongest predictor of policy support, including in foreign and security affairs. However, our results also indicate the secular-religious divide is a significant factor only in public opinion on war operations and territorial compromises in the West Bank. The propensity score matching method reduces the bias in the impact of Jewish religiosity, which is overestimated in the literature. This finding contributes to a better understanding of the relationship of religion and foreign policy in small democracies.

It seems that for non-secular Israeli Jews, the occupied territories in the West Bank, called “Judea and Samaria” in the Biblical names, are integral and important parts of the Promised Land. Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied territories concerns not only homeland security in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv or poor housing conditions but also Zionist ideology, especially Religious Zionism. Therefore, “Judea and Samaria” are considered part of the territorial as well as national integrity of “Erez Yisrael,” the Land of Israel, among the non-secular. The unilateral withdrawals from South Lebanon and the Gaza Strip did not provoke a serious split in Israeli society. Despite conflict concerning the settlement evacuation, the land of Gaza is unproblematic from a religious perspective, which is supported by the estimations of ATE in the previous section.

In conclusion, we suggest a theoretical implication for foreign affairs and public opinion in democratic countries. When a disputed region is associated with the essence of a nation, the national interest is not defined in the strategic calculations of political leaders but is determined by a collective national identity. A forceful approach to the resolution of the territorial dispute will lead to a clash of social identities among the people and then serious reconsideration of the configuration of the nation-state. The approach is almost impossible because there is a high risk to national integrity in this consideration. Religion is an influential source of collective national identity; therefore, it often promotes intractable conflicts over territory.

Biographical Notes

Hamanaka Shingo [Ph.D., Kobe University, Japan] is a professor of Middle Eastern Politics at the Department of Law, Ryukoku University, Japan. His publications include “Military Service as a Process of Political Socialization: The Case of Universal Conscription in Israel,” (Annals of Japanese Middle East Studies, 32(1), 2016), “Demographic Change and Its Social and Political Implications in the Middle East,” (Asian Journal of Comparative Politics 1(3), 2016), and “Determinants of Attitude toward Political Parties in Palestine,” (Asian Journal of Public Opinion Research 1(1), 2013).

He can be reached at:, or


All correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Shingo HAMANAKA, Department of Law, Ryukoku University, Fushimi-ku, Fukakusa, Tsukamoto-cho 67, Kyoto, 612-8577, Japan, or by e-mail:

  1. This is called religious Zionism. Further readings on the philosophy of Rabbi Abraham Hacohen Kook and the religious Zionist movement include Harkabi (1988), Sprinzak (1991), and Inbari (2012).

  2. Hoshino (2009) shows a concise explanation of the propensity score matching method for users without sacrificing the mathematical rigor.