Around 57 percent of Israeli Arabs say the Islamic Movement truly represents them, according to a new study by Prof. Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa, which will be released in full on Monday during a conference at Givat Haviva.
Smooha, who has been charting Israeli-Arab opinion since 1976, discussed with The Jerusalem Post some of the key findings from his 2015 study, which is titled Still Playing by the Rules: The Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2015. It is based on an annual opinion survey of the adult Israeli-Arab population, and was carried out from May to July.
An overwhelming number of Israeli Arabs – 82 percent – agreed that Islamic State is an extremist terrorist organization and that they, as Arabs, felt ashamed of it, while 17% disagreed, said Smooha, pointing out that these statistics include Druse and Christian Arabs.
When including only Muslim Arabs, 18% disagreed with the statement. Of those respondents with higher education, 20% disagreed.
Among those who felt closest to the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, 28% disagreed with the statement.
“This is a very telling finding,” said Smooha. “Why, because all Arab political parties and the Islamic Movement’s two factions are against Islamic State, so this means a segment of the Arab public does not agree with the consensus against Islamic State.”
He attributes this to the possibility that some Israeli Arabs see the group as a powerful one that can stand up to Israel and major world players. It also reflects on their negative assessment of their conditions in Israel.
“Some of these people left to fight in Syria” and represent “a minority that is very against coexistence,” which hopes to replace Israel through violence with an Islamic state, he added.
Extreme and rejectionist attitudes are held by about one-fifth or a quarter of the Israeli-Arab public. “We must bear in mind also that there is a parallel minority of Jews that rejects coexistence and supports the state’s encouragement of Arabs to leave the country,” he said.
Around 31% of Jews would deny Arabs the right to vote for the Knesset, he continued.
It is important to bear in mind that the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement is what most Arabs refer to when speaking of the “Islamic Movement,” Smooha said.
“When we ask about identification, more than two times as many Arabs identify with the Northern rather than the Southern branch,” he explained. “Most Arabs that support the Islamic Movement, support the Northern Branch.”
Smooha says that 42% of all Arabs in Israel define themselves as sympathizers, activists or members of one of the Islamic Movement’s two factions.
The state is reducing support for social services and the Islamic Movement is stepping in to provide these services, such as kindergartens, elementary schools, sports clubs and Koran classes, said Smooha.
When asked what movement or political party respondents felt closest to, “Most people mentioned political parties, but 9.4% said they were closest to the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement,” the professor said.
The Southern Branch participates in Israeli politics through the United Arab List party, which currently has three members serving in the Knesset, as part of the Joint List.
Smooha said that the Joint List, which 83% of Israeli Arabs voted for in the last election, is quite popular because the majority sees it as representative.
Most Israeli Arabs would like to see it be a partner in the government coalition, as it could then have more influence on their daily lives, he said. The majority of the Israeli-Arab public is pragmatic and wants to use its political power to affect policy change, improve living conditions, decrease violence within the community and increase affordable housing, Smooha said.