Poll Paints Problematic Picture of Israel’s Future

by Jim Lobe

The results of the very detailed Pew poll of Israeli citizens tends to confirm that the country is going in a very negative direction, particularly with respect to Arab-Jewish relations.

The entire report, “Israel’s Religiously Divided Society,” bears close reading. Based on interviews with nearly 6,000 Israeli adults—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, and Druze—the poll was conducted between mid-October 2014, and last May, well before the Arab-Jewish violence that began last fall.

The headline is the finding that a 48% plurality of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement, “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” One in five (21%) said they agreed “strongly.” Only 46 percent disagreed with the proposition. More religious and less-educated Jews tended to agree in higher percentages than secular Jews. Most troubling for the future, respondents under the age of 50 tended to agree somewhat more (49-44%) than those 50 and older. (However, there has been some criticism of the vagueness of the question.)

A no less disturbing finding was that 79% of Israeli Jews agreed with the proposition that Jews “deserve preferential treatment” in Israel. Although religious Jews supported that notion overwhelmingly, nearly seven out of ten self-described secular Jews also backed that notion. As Shibley Telhami (one of the many consultants who helped design the survey) pointed out after citing this result, “so much for the notion of democracy with full equal rights for all its citizens.” Indeed, if this is what Netanyahu means when he demands that Israel be recognized as “the nation state of the Jewish people,” it would be very difficult to square it with conventional notions of democratic governance or equality before the law.

More than three-quarters of Israeli Jews seem to be blind to this contradiction for they see democracy as compatible with the idea of a “Jewish state.” Unsurprisingly, however, nearly two-thirds of Israel’s Arab and Druse citizens disagree.

As noted by Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation,

These findings demonstrate how a state that claims to be both Jewish and democratic actually functions. Toward non-Jews, primarily Palestinians, living under its control, the state is Jewish. Toward Jews, it is democratic. …This is what apartheid looks like, and while the Israeli system has always been this way, the recent rightward and nationalist drift of its politics has led the public to proudly embrace what was once less openly discussed.

Similarly, 79% of Arab (Muslim and Christian) respondents said they see “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in Israel. Nearly four out of ten told interviewers that they have experienced at least one incident during the previous 12 months in which they felt discriminated against based on religious identity—whether it was questioning by security officials, being prevented from traveling, suffering property damage, or actually being directly threatened or attacked.

By contrast, three out of four Israeli Jews (74%) said that they do not see much discrimination against Muslims in Israel.

The poll also found a rather dramatic plunge in optimism among Arab citizens that peaceful coexistence between Israel and an independent Palestinian state is possible. In 2013, Pew found that 74% of Israeli Arabs agreed that such a possibility was real. The most recent finding (which is almost one year old now) found that only 50% of Arab citizens share that belief. That is much closer to the 43% of Jewish Israelis who believe that coexistence is possible.

In this finding, as in so many others, the picture this poll paints is not a pretty one.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.