PM Netanyahu with Arab Israeli leaders.
(photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)
The latest Pew Research Center survey on Israel, released Tuesday, bears the unlikely title “Israel’s Religiously Divided Society: Deep gulfs among Jews, as well as between Jews and Arabs, over political values and religion’s role in public life.” In general it is a meticulous compilation of the obvious facts of Israeli life – such as the ultra-Orthodox tend to marry the ultra-Orthodox – with the dramatic exception of exposing how many Israelis, about half, would like to expel the country’s Arab citizens.
A word about methodology is required here. The Pew survey, which covers some 230 pages, was conducted by face-to-face interviews in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian among 5,601 Israeli adults 18 and older from October 2014 through May 2015. For one thing, it was compiled long before the present ongoing surge of terrorism and supposedly reflects attitudes from a calmer time. But more importantly, while some respondents’ language was their native Hebrew or Arabic, an entire focus group was Russian-speakers.
People responding to this very detailed questionnaire in their native Russian would seem to be an unrepresentative group of Israelis, and it is unclear how this affected the poll’s accuracy.
With that in mind, the most startling finding of the Pew poll seems to be the willingness of so many Israelis – during the eight months the survey was conducted – to expel or “transfer” some 20 percent of the country’s citizenry. And, if this is an accurate statistic, what does this mean for Israel’s celebrated and ongoing struggle to be the only democracy in the Middle East? Some 48% of Jewish Israelis agreed with the statement that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” As might be expected, the percentage ranged from 54% to 71% for those defining themselves as ultra-Orthodox, national religious or traditional, while only about 36% of the secular community agreed.
This result may be compared to a study by the University of Haifa’s Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in 2015, which found that 32% of Israeli Jews agreed to some extent that “Arab citizens should leave the country and receive proper compensation,” with 64% opposed.
The Pew study also highlighted high levels of support for the application of religious law in Israel, with nearly a quarter of Israeli Jews favoring Jewish law over democracy if the two should clash, and a third supporting the idea that government policies should promote religious beliefs and values.
The most profound finding of the survey is the disconnect between how Israelis view the compatibility of democracy and a Jewish state, and how we are divided on whether democratic principles or religious law should take priority. Most Israeli Jews say Israel can be both a democracy and a Jewish state – 76% of the total, but 58% of the haredim, 79% of the national religious, 80% of the traditional, and 76% of the secular. However, 62% of the total say democratic principles should outweigh Halacha, with 3% of haredim agreeing, 11% of national religious, 56% of traditional, and 89% of secular.
President Reuven Rivlin was quick to respond to the Pew survey, urging the nation to undergo “soul-searching” over the poll’s findings of support for Arab transfer. The president said it is “unconscionable” that Jewish Israelis should view the State of Israel as a democracy only with regard to its Jewish citizens.
“It pains me to see the gap that exists in the public’s consciousness – religious and secular – between the notion of Israel as a Jewish state and as a democratic state. I believe that our democratic values are also born out of our Jewish faith, a ‘love for the stranger’ and equality before the law – these are not foreign values, this is Judaism,” Rivlin said.
Joint (Arab) List MK Yousef Jabareen also slammed the results, saying it should make Israelis “lose sleep.”
“The transfer of civilians, for whatever reason, is a crime against humanity, and I’m disturbed to see that half of the Jewish respondents support such a move,” he said.