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Israelis are the most patriotic people in the Western world according to a survey taken by the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The survey which was the brainchild of founding IPS head Prof. Uzi Arad, was conducted by him and Gal Alon among 800 people in a random sample of Israel's demographic mosaic in accordance with the standards employed by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
The findings of the survey were presented to President Moshe Katsav on Wednesday evening and will be discussed at the sixth annual Herzliya Conference which opens on January 21, with The Balance of Israel's National Security as the umbrella theme.
"Patriotism is a sentiment that is often neglected in Israel; it is almost a taboo subject," said Arad. "We are very quick at self flagellation and criticism."
But patriotism he noted is a vital component in measuring national security. "It is impossible to measure a country's strength without addressing the patriotic component among its citizens," said Arad.
Although Arad did not expect Arabs questioned in the survey to say they were willing to fight to defend Israel, nonetheless 85% of all respondents did express a willingness to fight compared to 63% in the US, 53% in Italy, 51% in France, 37% in Spain, 32% in Germany and 32% in Japan.
More than half of Israeli Arabs are not proud of their Israeli citizenship. 56% replied in the negative about pride in being Israeli and defined themselves as Palestinians, while 73% said they would not fight to defend the state. But 77% of Israeli Arabs compared to 66% of Israeli Jews believe that Israel is better than most other countries, especially with regard to social welfare. Arab pride in the welfare system is three times as high as Jewish pride, with 53% of Arabs expressing pride in the welfare state compared to 17% of Jews.
Where there is minimal discrepancy between Jews and Arabs is in the intention and desire to continue living in Israel, regardless of security hazards or the state of the economy. The overall ratio was 87% including 82% of Arabs. Loyalty to the land is higher in the US (90%), and one percentage point lower than Israel in Canada.
Both Jews and Arabs -86% in all - would also encourage their children to continue living in Israel.
People polled were asked about how they felt when someone failed to stand to attention during the sounding of the siren on Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers, or when someone demonstrated disrespect for the flag or the anthem.
Replies to questions such as these indicated that patriotism among Jewish citizens is stronger among people on the political right than on the political left. It is also stronger among religious and traditional Jews than it is among secular Jews; and older people tend to be more patriotic than younger ones.
Although education is one of the tools to encourage patriotism, the survey found that patriotism was stronger among people without university education than among those with academic degrees.
All in all however, Arad's assessment is that there is a "patriotic deficit" attributable in part to post-Zionism, and stemming, according to Arad, from a common belief that patriotism is equivalent to nationalism which is equivalent to fascism.
National pride was eradicated in the post-Zionist era he said, "And without pride there is no patriotism."
Professor Ephraim Yuchtman-Yaar Head of the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Program at Tel Aviv University, commended the survey as "a monumental pioneering project," and noted that while it would not have been surprising to witness a decline in patriotism during the years of the second intifada, there was in fact a reverse situation. Not only did the level of patriotism not decline from 2000 to 2005 he said, but actually increased slightly, demonstrating Israeli resilience in reaction to attempts to lower morale.
While there is no absolute definition of patriotism, conceded IDC President Uriel Reichman, who is tipped to be the next minister for education if Kadima wins the elections, in Israel, patriotism is related to Zionism. Thus it cannot really include Arabs or be compared to surveys abroad.
The best measure for patriotism, said Katsav, was to look at the wars of Israel and the extent to which almost everyone was willing to take up arms and to do whatever was necessary in defense of the country.
Israel had every reason to lose its democratic staying power, he underscored, noting that 60% of Israel's immigrants came from non-democratic countries that were rife with poverty.
Israel was also a country in which the prime minister had been assassinated. Yet for all that, said Katsav, "I feel that Israel's democracy is strong and stable and that national morale is rooted in patriotism."
Katsav, a long-time advocate for Israel's Arab sector, was unhappy with many of the findings with regard to the Arab community, and noted how many Arabs had chosen to remain Israeli citizens rather than become Palestinian citizens. To him that was a sign of patriotism.
If there was a lack of pride among Israeli Arabs he argued, it was because there had not been sufficient dialogue between other Israelis and Arabs. "They barely have any contact (with Israeli Jews) until they're 20 years old," he noted.
Arad, who founded the Herzliya Conference which has become a platform for the unveiling of new national policies, intends to make the patriotism survey an annual feature of the conference.