Israel Democracy Institute discusses Jewish, Arab relations

Prof. Smooha: Deterioration in Arab citizens' view of the state since Rabin assassination, Jews have not become more extreme.

July 2, 2013 01:13
4 minute read.
Israel Democracy Institute rountable

Israel Democracy Institute rountable370. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir)


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As Prof. Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa presented the results of his report on Arab-Jewish relations at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem on Sunday, Jewish and Arab activists and analysts debated facts and solutions – and in the process ran afoul of each other’s language sensitivities.

Muhammad Darawshe, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, and Faisal Azaiza, head of the University of Haifa’s School of Social Work, both raised objections to the language of Smooha’s presentation, which summarized the background and findings of his “Still Playing by the Rules: Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2012.”

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Smooha described the situation of Arab Israelis as generally positive, characterizing them as both a “strong minority” and beneficiaries of Israel’s welfare state and protection against Islamic fundamentalism.

“The Jewish majority needs a sense of modesty in the terms it uses at a roundtable about the Arab minority,” Darawshe responded.

As the discussion turned to the topic of solutions, however, Darawshe ignited his own terminological scuffle over the positive use of “intifada,” in response to the finding that a majority of Israeli Arabs would support a domestic intifada.

“There’s a place for an internal intifada. An Arab citizen can’t accept this daily discrimination. You should thank Arabs that there wasn’t an intifada this morning, or yesterday. We need a cooperative intifada, with a broad base beyond the Arab community,” he said.

Ami Ayalon, former director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and a former Labor Party MK, spoke as a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. He raised alarm over the positive use of “intifada.”

“You spoke earlier about sensitive terminology. What does intifada mean in your lexicon? For most Israelis, it has the sense of violence and the spilling of blood,” he said.

Darawshe clarified that he meant “intifada” in the sense of nonviolent social protest with the goal of a role in power-sharing and policy-making, calming the din that marked the roundtable’s most divisive moment.

Panelists also differed as to the implications of the survey report, which relied on the responses of 700 Arab and 700 Jewish citizens. Smooha offered a bleak summary of his team’s findings.

“There is a growing ideological rift between Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis, and that is that Arabs are overwhelmingly not Zionists, but almost all Jews are. This is not trivial, it is a deep divide over the very nature of the state,” he said.

He used data to highlight an alarming trend for the worse in the Arab sector’s views of the state since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, which intensified in the wake of the past decade’s wars in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

On the Jewish side, however, Smooha spoke of moderation and growing tolerance with respect to the Arab minority.

“Whatever the media thinks, Jews have not become more extreme. The processes that have made Arabs more extreme have not affected Jewish opinions.”

“That said, “ he continued, “in terms of the attitudes of Jews, Right and Center-Left are like different nations,” he said.

Dr. Thabet Abu Ras of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel’s Negev office responded, emphasizing that the survey results contradicted his intuitive sense of recent changes in society.

“The reality is that in Israel, the cup is one-third full and two-thirds empty, Professor Smooha, and you don’t want to admit to the empty two-thirds. I was surprised to hear about the moderation of Jews over the last few years.

Have you looked around? Racist legislation and the destruction of Beduin villages in the Negev – this is moderation?” Abu Ras nevertheless agreed with Smooha’s basic prescription for improvement: that Israel can justly remain Jewish and democratic, but only if it redefines “Jewish and democratic” to better accommodate the concerns of the Arab minority.

In response to Smooha’s finding that 60 percent of Israeli Jews are afraid to enter an Arab village, Aiman Uda, secretary- general of Hadash, suggested an optimistic grassroots treatment.

“If they want to be better recognized in Israeli society, Arabs need to invite Jews to visit their villages. Thousands of Arabs should go out and do this,” Uda said.

Eran Yashiv, an economist at Tel Aviv University, followed by drawing attention to the role of religious fundamentalism in hardening each side’s perceptions of the other. However, he joined his Arab colleagues in concluding that unequal treatment is to blame for the drift of Arab citizens away from Israel’s civic principles.

“Discrimination is the main issue, without a doubt. And an end to discrimination will not result from one great move but from many small steps in the right direction,” he said.

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