New poll finds Israelis split on Ukrainian refugees based on religiosity, politics

Majority back government's limited sanctions on Russia; most Jewish Israelis blame Putin for the war, but Arabs aren't so sure who's to blame

Illustrative -- Israelis protest against the deportation of some Ukrainian refugees on March 17, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A new study released Friday found stark differences in Israelis’ views on the prospects of the country accepting Ukrainian refugees, with those identifying as right-wing and religious being far less willing to allow non-Jewish refugees into the country than their left-wing and secular counterparts.

The poll was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, and asked a variety of questions regarding the respondents’ views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s response to it.

The majority of Israelis — 71.9 percent — said they were following the war, with people who came from the former Soviet Union most agreeing with that statement.

The majority also said they agree with the government’s decision to only partially abide by the West’s sanctions regime against Russia. This was true of Israelis who came from the former Soviet Union, Jewish Israelis who did not come from the former Soviet Union and Arab Israelis. Roughly two-thirds of Israelis also oppose the country sending direct military assistance to Ukraine and not just humanitarian aid.

Israeli officials have maintained that while they do not want Israel to become a haven for Russian oligarchs, the country lacks the legal mechanisms to enforce some of the sanctions being put into place around the world. Diplomatically, Israel also seeks to maintain a civil relationship with Moscow, which has a massive military force in neighboring Syria, though Israeli officials have nevertheless repeatedly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis — nearly nine out of 10 — believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “should teach Israel that it cannot rely on international bodies to maintain its security and that it can only rely on itself.” The majority of Arab Israelis also agree with that statement, but a noticeably lower amount, 51.3%, the survey found.

Most Israelis — 54% — do not believe that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s mediation efforts between Russia and Ukraine will help end the war, but 30% do believe there’s a good chance that they will.

A firefighter looks at the destruction caused after shelling of a shopping center, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Some of the issues with the greatest differences in the survey relate to who is responsible for the war in Ukraine, the immigration of Jewish Ukrainians to Israel, and how to handle non-Jewish refugees.

The issue of non-Jewish refugees splits Jewish Israelis clearly on partisan and religious lines, with more conservative respondents — religiously and politically — being less likely to support the unlimited entrance of non-Jewish refugees into the country.

The survey found that six percent of people who identified as ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, agreed with the statement: “Israel should accept as many Ukrainian refugees as seek to enter, regardless of whether they are Jewish or not.” Among Orthodox, national-religious respondents, 20% supported the unlimited entry of Ukrainian refugees regardless of nationality. Of those who identified as traditional-religious or traditional but non-religious, 35% agreed with the statement. While the majority of secular Israelis — 60% — supported the unlimited entry of all Ukrainian refugees.

Of those who identified as left-wing, nearly three-quarters supported allowing in Ukrainian refugees regardless of background, compared to 59.5% of centrists and 31% of those who identified as right-wing.

Right-wing lawmakers, notably Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked who has largely shaped the country’s refugee policy, have warned that an influx of non-Jewish refugees could challenge Israel’s status as a Jewish-majority country.

While the majority of Jewish Israelis — 75.8% — believe that Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin are responsible for the war, only 26.6% of Arab Israelis feel the same way. Nearly a quarter of Arab Israelis blamed the United States and NATO, seven percent blamed Ukraine and two percent blamed Russian separatists in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Just over 19% blamed all the parties equally and another 19% said they did not know.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people after his speech at the concert marking the eighth anniversary of the referendum on the state status of Crimea and Sevastopol and its reunification with Russia, in Moscow, March 18, 2022. (Ramil Sitdikov/Sputnik Pool Photo via AP)

This appears to come from a degree of support for Russia — or at least opposition to NATO and the United States — by some Arab Israelis, particularly those who support the communist Hadash party, which historically maintained ties with the Soviet Union. When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to the Knesset on Sunday, nearly all members of the predominantly Arab Joint List party boycotted the event.

The vast majority of Jewish Israelis — 88.5% — support “drastically cutting the bureaucracy” for Jewish refugees from Ukraine who want to immigrate to Israel, but just over a third of Arab Israelis support doing so, while nearly half — 48.4% — oppose easing the citizenship process for Jewish Ukrainians looking to move to Israel.

Similarly, more than three-quarters of Jewish respondents supported prioritizing sending humanitarian aid to Jews in the conflict zones, while only a quarter of Arab Israelis supported the same. Among Jewish Israelis, however, there was a significant split between those who identified as left-wing, with 48% supporting prioritizing humanitarian aid for Jews, compared to 72% of centrists and 83 of right-wingers.

The Israel Democracy Institute survey was conducted by the Midgam Institute over the course of four days, from March 14 to 17. Over 1,000 people were polled: 501 from the former Soviet Union, 400 Jewish Israelis not from the former Soviet Union and 103 Arab Israelis.

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