Support for coexistence plunging among Jewish and Arab Israelis

Survey finds recognition of Israel’s right to exist down 7% among Arabs, Jewish acceptance of Arabs as equal citizens down 8%

Illustrative: Arab Israeli students at the campus of Givat Ram at Hebrew University, on the first day of the new academic year, October 26, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: Arab Israeli students at the campus of Givat Ram at Hebrew University, on the first day of the new academic year, October 26, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Tensions between Jews and Arabs are intensifying, with both populations becoming more skeptical about prospects for living in coexistence, according to a survey published on Wednesday.

Arab Israelis’ recognition of the state and of its Jewish character has significantly declined between 2015 and 2017, alongside a parallel decrease in Jews’ acceptance of Arabs as equal citizens, the poll, conducted by Haifa University sociologist Sammy Smooha, found.

However, the survey also found most Israeli Arabs think Israel is a good place to live and wouldn’t want to relocate to a future Palestinian state. In his conclusions, Smooha said that despite the widening rift, there is a “continued strong basis for Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel.”

The extensive survey, called the 2017 Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel, found that last year 58.7 percent of Israeli Arabs recognized Israel’s right to exist, significantly down from 65.8% in 2015. The percentage of Arabs recognizing the state as Jewish and democratic decreased during that time from 53.6% to 49.1%, while the share of those recognizing it as a Zionist state went down from 42.7% in 2015 to 36.2% in 2017.

The percentage of Israeli Arabs acknowledging that Israel is a Jewish-majority state decreased dramatically, from 60.3% in 2015 to 44.6% in 2017. Likewise, only 49.7% acknowledged in 2017 that Hebrew was the dominant language in the country, compared with 63.4% just two years earlier.

Israeli Arabs make up roughly 21% of the country’s population, with Jews making up some 75% and the rest defined as “other.”

Sammy Smooha, professor of Sociology at Haifa University and recipient of the Israel Prize. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Among the Jewish population, the survey found that in 2017 only 61.1% viewed the country’s Arabs as full members of Israeli society, down from 69.5% two years earlier. The percentage of Israeli Jews agreeing that Arabs have the right to live as a minority enjoying full civil rights was sharply down from 79.7% in 2015 to 73.8% in 2017.

Just 51.6% of Israel’s Jewish population was willing in 2017 to have Arab children in their kids’ school class, down from 57.5% in 2015. A similar decline was registered in the percentage of Jews willing to have Arab neighbors. During that time, the percentage of Jews refraining from entering Arab towns increased from 59.3% to 63.7%.

The survey, conducted for the first time by Smooha in 1976, found that while Israeli Arabs increasingly question the state’s legitimacy, they still wouldn’t leave the country. In 2017, 77.4% said they weren’t willing to live in a future Palestinian state, up from 72.2% in 2015. Some 60% said they preferred living in Israel over any other country in the world, up from 58.8% two years earlier.

“There has been a sharp deterioration in the past few years in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel,” said Smooha in the survey’s conclusions. “But this deterioration doesn’t spell a revolutionary change.

“Most Jews and most Arabs in Israel believe in a shared society, accept the state in the pre-1967 lines as a framework for their relations, think Israel is a good place to live in, are committed to democracy, and agree that civil equality is the basis for coexistence and an important national goal,” he added.

Smooha ascribed the increasingly extreme views among Jews and Arabs to actions taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government to “weaken democracy,” the Palestinian “youth intifada,” the lack of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and lack of investment in Israel’s Arabs.

To gather data, Smooha and his team spoke with 700 Arabs and 700 Jews across the country between May and August of 2017. The study became a joint project of the University of Haifa and the Israel Democracy Institute in 2012.

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