President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday said it was “unconscionable” that Jewish Israelis should view the State of Israel as a democracy only with regard to its Jewish citizens, and urged the public to engage in “soul-searching.”
The president was responding to the results of a major poll by the Pew Research Center, published Tuesday, which showed that nearly half of Jewish Israelis agree that Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, and a solid majority (79 percent) maintain that Jews in Israel should be given preferential treatment.
“The idea that the State of Israel could be democracy only for its Jewish citizens is unconscionable and we must find a way to address this,” he said, after researchers from the Washington-based think tank presented him with the findings.
The poll also found that a majority of Israeli Jews (76%) said they view a Jewish state as being compatible with democracy – but the opposite trend was found among Arab citizens, with 64% maintaining that Israel cannot be both a democracy and a Jewish state (63% of Muslims, 72% of Christians, and 58% of Druze said they feel this way).
“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.
The president urged that the survey be “placed before the decision makers in Israel,” and said it “must serve as a wake-up call for Israeli society, to bring about some soul-searching and moral reflection.”
Joint (Arab) List MK Yousef Jabarin 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.
“I call on all the country’s leaders to come to their senses and change their discourse toward Arab citizens – from a discourse of incitement, hatred and division to a respectful dialogue that promotes coexistence between Jews and Arabs and refers to Arab citizens as citizens with equal rights and equal status.”
The poll, with 5,601 in-person interviews of Israeli adults, conducted between October 2014 and May 2015, found that Israeli Jews increasingly believed the West Bank settlements help, rather than hurt, Israel’s security – and most (61%) believe Israel was given by God to the Jewish people.
The survey makes no distinction between Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and citizens of Israel in its question about whether Arabs should be expelled from Israel. And yet, 48% of Jewish Israelis said they were in favor, 46% were opposed, and 6% said they didn’t know.
Breaking it down into religious groups, the Modern Orthodox (the report uses the Hebrew term dati’im), were the most likely to support such a measure, at 71%. At the opposite end, secular Jews were most opposed, with 58% against (but over one-third supported it). Jews of Sephardic or Mizrahi ancestry — many of whom have ancestors who were expelled from their countries of origin — were more keen on the idea (56%) than their Ashkenazi counterparts (40%).
Overall, Israeli Jews also overwhelmingly feel (79%) they deserve unspecified “preferential treatment” over non-Jewish minorities in Israel. Settlers were slightly more inclined to support preferential treatment (85%) than the rest of the population, but the view was popular among all Jewish groups in Israel regardless of religious level, particularly among the ultra-Orthodox (97%) and Modern Orthodox (96%), although 69% of secular Jews and 85% of traditional (Masorti) Jews also agreed.
The nearly 300-page study also addressed the growing religious divides among Israelis. It found that six in ten want separation between religion and state, and a majority are in favor of public transportation on Shabbat.
“This study serves as a further wake-up call to the position that we have been advocating for the past two decades: Israeli Jews wish to practice their Judaism but want to do so in a manner that is not coercive or manipulated by the institutions of the state,” Rabbi David Stav, the head of the Tzohar rabbinic organization, said. “Most troubling, the study drives home the reality that if we don’t find a manner to address these concerns over coercion, we are essentially creating a recipe for two Jewish nations within one state.”