55% of Israeli Arabs are ‘proud citizens’ of Israel, but 76% reject its definition as a ‘Jewish state’
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52% of Jewish Israelis say those 'unwilling to affirm that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people should lose their right to vote'

55% of Israeli Arabs are ‘proud citizens’ of Israel, but 76% reject its definition as a ‘Jewish state’

Survey finds most of country's Arab residents say life is 'good', majority of Jews and Arabs open to being friends; reports of demise of Israel's democracy 'exaggerated'

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Students learning in an Israeli Hand in Hand school, where the curriculum is both in Hebrew and Arabic. (Courtesy: Debbie Hill)
Students learning in an Israeli Hand in Hand school, where the curriculum is both in Hebrew and Arabic. (Courtesy: Debbie Hill)

Over three-quarters of Arab Israelis do not believe that Israel has the right to define itself as a Jewish state, according to a survey published on Monday.

The Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index also found that a majority of Jewish Israelis (52.5%) maintain that those “unwilling to affirm that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people should lose their right to vote.”

Even as over 76 percent rejected the right to define Israel as a Jewish state — with more than 57% saying they strongly disagree with the idea — most Arab Israelis (60.5%) described their personal situation as “good” or “very good” and 55% said they are “proud citizens” of the State of Israel, according to the survey.

Jewish Israelis, meanwhile, overwhelmingly say they are proud citizens (86%) and are satisfied with their personal situation (78%).

“There is no contradiction between the two,” said Prof. Tamar Hermann, the author of the study on the attitudes of Arab Israelis toward the state and personal satisfaction. Personal satisfaction is not directly impacted by the government, she said, noting the importance of local and family ties. And the rejection of the Jewish state as such is borne out of the official Palestinian Authority position which sees Judaism “as a religion, not a nation,” she maintained.

“They may comply with that,” Hermann said of Arab Israelis living in the official Jewish homeland, “but they don’t like it. So they refuse to give the state the right to define itself as such.”

Israeli soldiers salute graves of fallen Israeli soldiers at the Mount of Olives cemetery after placing flags on the graves during a ceremony in preparation for Memorial Day, beginning tonight. May 10, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers salute graves of fallen Israeli soldiers at the Mount of Olives cemetery after placing flags on the graves during a ceremony in preparation for Memorial Day, beginning tonight. May 10, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Painting a fraught and complex picture of Jewish-Arab relations, the survey found that most Jewish Israelis say Arab Israelis do not pose a security threat (56% say no) but a large majority (72%) believe matters of peace and security should be decided by Jews alone.

Most (53%) maintain that Arab Israelis face discrimination, but nearly half believe that the government should allocate more funds to Jewish institutions than Arab ones and a majority (59%) don’t want Arab parties to serve in the coalition or be appointed ministers; 72% of Arab Israelis are in favor of joining the government — something no Arab party has ever done, though individual Muslim and Druze lawmakers have been part of Israeli coalitions — and having Arab Israelis serve in cabinet positions, the survey said.

At the same time, on a personal level, while both Arabs and Jews were against marrying outside of their respective religious groups, both displayed an openness to various relationships with the “other,” the survey said, as neighbors (86% of Arabs and 67% of Jews in favor), co-workers (96% of Arabs and 82% of Jews in favor) and friends (88% of Arabs and 67% of Jews in favor).

Jews and Arabs plant trees on Tu Bishvat (photo credit: Gershon Elinson / Flash90)
Jews and Arabs plant trees on Tu Bishvat (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

“A greater share of Arabs than of Jews are willing to engage in such relationships — a well-known situation among minorities vis-
à-vis majority groups in a given society,” Hermann wrote in the report. “This is an extremely encouraging finding, particularly in light of the serious accusations — supported primarily by isolated incidents but not necessarily corroborated by non-anecdotal empirical studies — that Israeli society, in particular Jewish society, is plagued by high levels of racism.”

According to the Peace Index, an international comparison shows reports of the demise of Israel’s democracy are “exaggerated,” though it urges improvements in various areas, including freedom of the press, civil liberties, and political stability. It also notes plummeting trust in Israel’s institutions, with the Knesset, the media and political parties scraping the bottom of the barrel for both Jews and Arabs.

The Israel Defense Forces holds the highest levels of trust among Jews (90%). Among Arabs, by contrast, just 32.2% trust the IDF — though it was nonetheless the second-highest most trusted institution, after the Supreme Court (51.8%). Trust in the Supreme Court among Jews dropped to 56% (from 62% a year earlier), as part of a decade-long decline from some 75%, according to Hermann.

Public trust in the Knesset, government, media and political parties were also down among both groups, with just 28% of Jews and 18% of Arabs displaying faith in the Knesset; 28% of Jews and 19% of Arabs in the government; 25% of Jews and 15% of Arabs expressing trust in the media; and 14% of Jews and 11% of Arabs in the political parties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with Leader of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog (C) and Leader of the Joint Arab list, Ayman Odeh in the Knesset (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with Leader of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog (C) and Leader of the Joint (Arab) list, Ayman Odeh in the Knesset (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Trust in the Knesset and government were down nine percentage points from a year earlier, while trust in the media declined over 11% in the past year, and trust in political parties slipped 5%.

In its international comparison of democracies, the study found that “Israel meets the basic requirements of a democracy, but is also facing difficult and substantial problems.”

“In the area of rights and freedoms, which are the very bedrock of a democratic regime, the situation calls for improvement. In recent years, freedom of the press is on the decline — a worrisome statistic due to the vital role of the press in mediating between different groups and making the political and social situation accessible to the public. The level of civil liberties — which include freedom of expression and association, religious freedom, equality before the law and personal security — is low in comparison with established democracies.”

However, “despite the many problems that characterize the Israeli polity, the international indicators show Israel to be a democratically stable country, and demonstrate that the periodic warnings of the imminent collapse of Israeli democracy are exaggerated, given a comparative perspective of the situation over time,” it said.

The survey was based on 1,531 telephone interviews — 41% via landlines, and 59% via cellphones — between May 1 and May 24, 2016.

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