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More than 60 percent of Israeli Jews believe the government should encourage Arabs to leave the country, according to a survey published by the Israel Democracy Institute on Tuesday. The findings have led MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) to ask for a special parliamentary session to address racism.
The Jews among a representative sample of 1,200 Israelis were asked to agree or disagree with the statement, "The government should encourage Arabs to emigrate." Sixty-two percent said they agreed.
Prof. Asher Arian, scientific director of the Guttman Center at the IDI and director of the 2006 Israel Democracy Index, said that the statistic indicated a "general lack of tolerance of Israeli Jews toward Israeli Arabs."
"Israeli democracy has not developed a strong sense of egalitarianism and community," Arian told The Jerusalem Post.
Barakei said he had initiated a special hearing in the Knesset on the subject of racism in light of what he called "these dangerous and worrying findings." The session would include representatives of the Arab community and its institutions, Barakei told the Post .
He said he had not been surprised by the survey's findings, and saw them as a result of "a racist policy aimed at the Arab population - a policy that had infiltrated all levels of education."
Even Israel Beiteinu, which advocated revoking the citizenship of Israelis who don't pledge allegiance to the state, rejected the findings of the survey. MK Yisrael Hasson said the party did not endorse encouraging the emigration of Israeli Arabs, but rather "separating the two population groups by defining a border between them."
"The Israeli public has gone too far," Hasson said. "I have no doubt that the Israeli government's policy of running away and [the convergence plan] has caused the public to seriously consider disengaging and running away themselves, even the Arab public."
"The attitude towards minorities is very worrying," said MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), "and it is extremely important to dedicate resources and attention to encourage the understanding of their cultural life and history as a necessary step to developing a respectful relationship."
Labor MK Michael Melchior said the index demonstrated a serious failure of the education system to inculcate democratic values in the past several years. Melchior, who is the incoming chairman of the Knesset Education and Culture Committee, said that addressing this failure would be the first item on his agenda.
"It is true that the manner in which some members of Knesset behave has had some part in the deterioration of the public's attitude towards government institutions," he said. "However, the education system will have to completely change its approach on the subject of democracy and highlight basic values such as minority rights, freedom of speech and the culture of decision making."
Arian said another study was conducted indicating that youth have similar response to the question. "This is not something that is getting better over time," Arian said. "The education system is not overcoming this figure... Obviously education and inculcating values of democracy have to be high on the list if there's something that can be done about this."
The public's trust in its politicians also seems to have deteriorated in recent years, according to the survey. Only 17% believed that elected politicians kept their campaign promises after they were elected, and only 25% agreed or strongly agreed that members of Knesset cared about what the public thought.
Only 22% said they trusted political parties - less than any other public institution in Israel. One-third trust the Knesset, 44% trust the media, 68% trust the Supreme Court and 79% trust the IDF.
According to the survey, 73% reported an interest in politics and 82% stated that they kept updated on politics on a daily basis or at least several times a week through television, radio and newspapers. Two-thirds reported talking to their friends and families about political issues. Those rates were the highest among 35 other Western democracies.
However, voters seemed to feel indifferent about and distant from politics and political activity. Only 27% believed that they had the ability to influence government policy.
Only 6% of participants said that they were official party members, though 51% saw themselves as affiliated with a party.
Despite these hesitations, 36% believed that there was no substantial difference between the parties' positions regarding security and foreign relations issues.
Eighty-six percent said they were proud that they were Israelis and 90% wished to continue living in Israel in the future.
The survey also showed a rise in support for democracy: 85% believed that democracy was the best government model for Israel, a 5% rise from last year's survey.
The findings of the IDI's 2006 Israel Democracy Index are to be officially presented to President Moshe Katsav on Wednesday at the president's Democracy Conference, whose title this year is "Israeli Democracy Put to the Test."
The survey, conducted just before the March elections, has a margin of error of 2.9%.
Sheera Claire Frenkel and Anshel Pfeffer contributed to this report.