‘Israelis are a forgiving people’

Survey asking Israeli Jewish society questions regarding traumatic events in country’s past finds higher than expected levels of forgiveness.

November 25, 2010 03:59
3 minute read.
Yigal Amir.

yigal amir 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Israelis may be more forgiving than previously thought, according to survey results released on Wednesday by the Academic Learning Center in Or Yehuda.

A representative sample of Israeli Jewish society was asked two questions regarding traumatic events in the country’s past, and higher than expected levels of forgiveness were found.

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The first question asked survey participants whether it is time for Israelis of eastern descent to forgive Ashkenazis “for the discrimination and disregard they suffered in the early days of the state.”

Out of the 500 participants, 47.8 percent agreed with the statement, 36.3% disagreed and 15.9% said they did not know.

The survey’s author, clinical psychologist Sharon Ziv Beiman, said the most surprising finding was that people of eastern descent and who suffered from discrimination against them favored forgiveness more than those of Ashkenazi descent. While 53.4% of those of eastern descent said they agreed, only 41.4% of Ashkenazis answered likewise. The group least likely to agree were new immigrants – 35.5%.

Somewhat less surprising was the age breakdown of the respondents. Members of the youngest group (18-34) were more likely to support the statement than those in the oldest group (55+).

Willingness to forgive also grew in accordance with the respondents’ self-described level of religious observance. Forty-four percent of secular Jews said they were willing to forgive, compared to 52% of traditional observers and 53.5% of haredim.

The second question had to do with a more recent traumatic event in Israel’s history, the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Survey participants were asked whether they had room to forgive Yigal Amir, Rabin’s convicted assassin.

Results showed that the vast majority of respondents, 77%, answered negatively, while only 15.3% responded affirmatively. Men were slightly more willing to forgive Amir than women. Younger people, those with an academic education and those describing themselves as religiously observant were more likely to forgive than their respective counterparts.

Respondents from larger households were more likely to forgive than those from smaller families. In terms of location, people from Jerusalem and the surrounding region were the most likely to favor forgiveness.

Ziv Beiman said that the findings indicate that the willingness to forgive is affected by contextual elements and that the closer the event is in time and personal importance, the more it is seen as malicious.

“It appears that the national values of many in the haredi public enables them to forgive Yigal Amir,” she said.

The ability to forgive contributes to personal and public well-being and aids in mending private and social rifts, according to Ziv Beiman.

“It is important to remember that the ability to see a complex and changing picture and the ability to seek redemption and reconciliation are important personal and social traits, which allow for dialogue and cooperation between opposing groups,” she said.

Ziv Beiman added that she and her team were somewhat surprised by the findings.

“Israeli society is often seen as a society that suffers from trauma, one that is very selfprotective and tends to see issues in stark contrasts of black and white, good and evil. In such a society there is fear that showing empathy will project weakness and that if people are willing to forgive it is a sign of forgetfulness and lack of vigilance,” she said. “The findings were optimistic from a psychological point of view.”

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