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Poll: In Israel, right-wing Jews now less likely to see shared future with Arabs

New survey from Jewish People Policy Institute shows deepening entrenchment of attitudes among different segments of Israeli society, likely due to recent political shifts

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli secular protesters shout slogans in Jerusalem on August 12, 2017, during a demonstration of ultra-Orthodox Jews against businesses that operate on Saturdays in the city.  The slogan, which rhymes in Hebrew, says, 'We're not against the Sabbath, we're against religious pressure.' (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )
Israeli secular protesters shout slogans in Jerusalem on August 12, 2017, during a demonstration of ultra-Orthodox Jews against businesses that operate on Saturdays in the city. The slogan, which rhymes in Hebrew, says, 'We're not against the Sabbath, we're against religious pressure.' (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

Right-wing Jewish Israelis have grown significantly more pessimistic about the potential of a common future with Arab Israelis over the past year, while their liberal counterparts have grown more optimistic, with nearly nine out of 10 saying they believed in such an outcome, according to a new poll published Monday.

The Jewish People Policy Institute think tank released its annual Pluralism Index ahead of Israel’s Independence Day later this week, mostly finding deep and deepening divides between the different segments of Israeli society — secular, national-religious, ultra-Orthodox and Arab — but with a few areas of agreement.

Most of the questions asked by the pollsters fell along party and religious lines, with right-wing and observant Jewish Israelis typically having a more negative view of Arabs and being more likely to support remaining separate from them, compared to their more left-wing and secular counterparts.

The survey was conducted by Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, one of Israel’s leading pollsters, with 1,100 Jewish respondents and 200 non-Jewish respondents — roughly in line with Israeli society. It was then analyzed by Fuchs and JPPI research fellows Shmuel Rosner and Noah Slepkov.

The poll found that Arab Israelis are now much more likely to believe that Jewish Israelis are extremists than they were four years ago, with only 8 percent saying that “very few” Jewish Israelis were extremists today as compared to the 23% that said so in 2018.

“Several hypotheses can be posited regarding the reasons for this change, including the harsh rhetoric of four election campaigns, the Jewish public’s response to the May 2021 riots, and the fact that a significant portion of the Arab public does not support the participation of an Arab party in the governing coalition,” the survey’s authors wrote.

In addition to an 11-day battle between the Israeli military and the Hamas terror group, last May also saw widespread rioting and internecine violence between Jewish and Arab Israelis, resulting in multiple deaths, most of them Jews.

Police officers clash with Arab Israeli demonstrators during a protest over tension in Jerusalem, in Ramle in central Israel, on May 10, 2021.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

And yet, at the same time, the majority of Arab Israelis support living in mixed neighborhoods with Jews and generally having shared public spaces, with the exception of cemeteries, which most people in Israel — Jews and non-Jews — want to keep separated by religion.

Right-wing Jewish Israelis are now more likely to believe that “many” Arab Israelis are extremists, 27% today compared to 20% in 2018, but left-wing Jewish Israelis are significantly more likely to believe that “very few” Arab Israelis are extremists, 19% today as opposed to 8% four years ago.

The report’s authors cautioned that these numbers may no longer be accurate as the questions were asked before a number of attacks were carried out by Arab Israelis affiliated with the Islamic State terror group in late March — which could have changed responses were they to have been given now.

The poll found that 58% of Israelis, including both Jews and non-Jews, said they either “strongly agreed” or “quite agreed” that Jews and Arabs have a “common future” in Israel. This was the same number as last year. However, a deeper look into the numbers among Jewish Israelis shows a marked shift by political affiliation.

In 2021, half of right-wing Israelis said they believed in the prospect of a “common future” between Jews and Arabs, while this year only 28% agreed with that view. This major drop was offset, however, by left-wing Israelis who grew more confident, with 88% saying they believed in the possibility of a common future this year, compared to 70% who said so last year.

The survey also found that the more religious a Jewish Israeli was, the more likely they were to support ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, parties serving in the coalition, with 32% of secular Israelis agreeing, 57% of traditional Israelis agreeing, 78% of national-religious Israelis agreeing and 94% of Haredi Israelis agreeing. The poll also found that the opposite was true in terms of supporting Arab political parties being part of the government, with 73% of secular Israelis supporting it, 45% of the traditional, 19% of the national-religious and 27% of the ultra-Orthodox.

In all, most Israelis — Jews and non-Jews — support having fully shared public spaces with two notable exceptions: cemeteries and neighborhoods.

This handout photo provided by the Magen David Adom (MDA) national emergency service on March 24, 2020, in Beersheba shows two paramedics praying outside an ambulance of the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA): a Jew from Beersheba facing Jerusalem, and an Arab from Rahat facing Mecca (MAGEN DAVID ADOM)

A significant majority of both Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis support having fully separate cemeteries, 72% and 67%, respectively.

The issue of mixed neighborhoods evenly divides Jews, with roughly one-third supporting fully shared neighborhoods, roughly one-third supporting “sometimes shared, sometimes separated” neighborhoods and roughly one-third supporting separated neighborhoods. Nearly three-fifths of Arab Israelis — 59% — support fully shared neighborhoods, while 21% support separate neighborhoods, and the rest support “sometimes separate, sometimes shared” ones.

Within the overall numbers of Jewish Israelis, however, there is data showing that right-wing Jewish Israelis are far more likely to oppose shared communal living spaces than their liberal counterparts.

The overwhelming majority of left-wing Israelis (70%) support fully mixed neighborhoods, compared to 2% who support separate neighborhoods. Meanwhile, a solid majority of right-wing Israelis, 63%, support separate neighborhoods, while only 14% support shared ones. In the center, a third fully support shared neighborhoods and 19% support separate ones, while the rest said it should be on a case-by-case basis.

Religious Israelis were also more likely to support segregation among Jews based on religious observance. Just half of religious Israelis support having all military units include a mix of secular and religious soldiers, while a third said it should be decided on a case-by-case basis and 14% say they should all be separated by religious observance.

The pollsters also asked respondents about the issue of violence in Arab Israeli society and who was responsible for it, revealing stark divides between Arab and Jewish Israelis on the matter.

Most Arab Israelis blame Israeli society and the police, while the plurality of Jews blame Arab “culture.”

Screen grab of a video apparently showing gunmen opening fire toward a store in Rahat, April 24, 2022 (Screen grab/Kan)

Of the non-Jewish Israelis polled, 40% agreed that the violence in Arab Israeli society was the “result of many years of neglect and discrimination against the Arab sector” and 37% said it was because “the police do not do their job properly.” Nine percent blamed Arab society for not allowing police to act against Arab Israeli violence and 14% blamed “a matter of culture.”

Of the Jews surveyed, 37% said the violence was the result of a “matter of culture” and 35% said it was the “result of many years of neglect and discrimination against the Arab sector.” The rest were split between blaming the police and blaming Arab society for not allowing the police to take effective action against the violence.

The Jewish responses, however, were deeply divided by political affiliation, with nearly all of the respondents blaming Arab culture identifying themselves as either right-wing or centrist. Meanwhile, 82% of left-wing Jewish Israelis blamed the neglect and discrimination.

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