Survey: Israeli Arab-Jewish relations rapidly deteriorating

Fewer Jews say they are ready to have Arab neighbors and fewer Arabs are accepting of Israel as a state with a Jewish majority.

March 8, 2018 15:42
4 minute read.
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Palestinian protesters wave Palestinian flags as Israelis carrying Israeli flags walk past in front of the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Relations between Arab and Jewish Israelis are getting markedly worse, with each group becoming less tolerant of the other, according to new findings.

Researchers interviewed 700 Arabs and 700 Jews from May to August 2017, as part of annual polling by University of Haifa sociologist Prof. Sammy Smooha.

More than half of Arab citizens do not accept Israel’s being a state with a Jewish majority and do not recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a significant rise from the results in 2015, the survey found.

Among Jews, there was a drop in readiness to live next to an Arab neighbor, to have Arab pupils in the same school as their children, and to enter Arab communities.

The survey reported a drop in the legitimacy of the state in Arab eyes and in the legitimacy of the Arab minority in Jewish eyes.

While 60.3% of Arab respondents accepted Israel as a state with a Jewish majority in 2015, in the new survey only 44.6% did. Those accepting Israel as a state with Hebrew as the dominant language dropped from 63.4% in 2015 to 49.7% in 2017. Those who accepted Israel’s having the Law of Return dropped from 39% to 25.2%.

At the same time, however, the number of Arab respondents who thought Israel is a good place to live remained high, totaling 61.9% in the current survey compared to 64% in 2015. And the proportion who said they prefer living in Israel over any other country actually rose, from 58.8% in 2015 to 60% in 2017.

Asked whether they would be willing to move to a future Palestinian state, 77.4% said no in the current survey, compared with 72.2% in 2015.

On the Jewish side, the proportion of respondents who recognize the right of Arabs to live in the country as a minority with full citizenship rights declined, from 79.7% in 2015 to 73.8% today. The share of Jews willing to have Arab pupils in their children’s schools dropped, from 57.5% to 51.6%. The percentage of Jews refusing to have Arab neighbors rose, from 41% to 48%. The proportion of Jews who decline to enter Arab communities rose, from 59.3% to 63.7%.

As for the Jewish nation-state bill, 67.3% of Jewish respondents agreed that “a law is needed that will ensure democracy exists in Israel only if it does not harm the Jewish state.” The level of support was the same when the question was posed in 2015.

At the same time, 60.7% of Jewish respondents in the current survey supported the cabinet’s 2015 decision to invest NIS 10 billion-NIS 15b. to boost economic development in the Arab sector.

SMOOHA, a veteran critic of government policy toward the Arab minority, faulted the government for, in his words, pursuing policies that give Arab citizens the feeling of being “politically persecuted,” including Knesset legislation such as the Jewish nation-state bill and the “muezzin bill” and practices such as demolitions of homes in unrecognized villages in the Negev where it is impossible to obtain permits to build legally.

He said diplomatic deadlock with the Palestinians, government statements such as those blaming Arabs for a spate of forest fires, a wave of Arab violence in 2015, and the lack of palpable impact as yet of the government economic steps all contributed to the results.

“There are a range of things: diplomatic stalemate, hostility between Israel and the Palestinian people, continuing occupation and a government that treats [Arabs] in a rather hostile fashion. It provides greater economic resources but blocks them politically.”

He said the diplomatic stalemate and actions by Arab MKs such as boycotting Shimon Peres’s funeral and Basel Ghattas’s attempt to smuggle cellphones to security prisoners had contributed to a hardening of Jewish attitudes. “Jews feel that Arabs are not acting as is expected of loyal citizens.”

Smooha voiced concern over the strong support for the Jewish nation-state bill. “It appears that most of the Jewish public except for a small minority supports subordinating democracy to the Jewish character of the state and thereby worsening the status of the Arab minority.”

Passage of the bill would “strengthen the message to Arabs that they are second-class citizens and that the state belongs to the Jews.”

Still, Smooha stressed his belief that his findings do not foreshadow an explosion in relations. “Arabs have tied their fate to the country and know that an uprising won’t help them,” he said.

Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, took issue with some of Smooha’s interpretations.

“I wouldn’t expect Smooha to say anything positive about a right-wing government in Israel. There is an alternative interpretation to his findings, namely that they may be a result of extremism of the Arab leadership and people involved in terrorism. Jews are fed up and Arabs are influenced by incitement of their leaders. Having said that, we need to demonstrate that we can live together,” Diskin said.

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