Controversial survey ostensibly highlights widespread anti-Arab attitudes in Israel

Haaretz coverage of poll draws far-reaching conclusions about ‘apartheid’ views among Jewish Israelis, but data makes it hard to ascertain veracity of claims

Jewish and Arab students hold countering protests at Haifa University in Nov. 2010 (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)
Jewish and Arab students hold countering protests at Haifa University in Nov. 2010 (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)

A significant proportion of Jewish Israelis hold anti-Arab, nationalistic views, Haaretz claimed on Tuesday, citing what it said were the findings of a new opinion poll.

The news report — the lead story on Haaretz’s Tuesday front page — claimed that the survey proved that “most Israeli Jews support an apartheid regime in the country, if the territories are annexed.” However, the nature of the questions, and discrepancies in the way the findings were presented, rendered some of the claims in the report hard to gauge.

The newspaper said the survey had been commissioned by the New Israel Fund’s Yisraela Goldblum Fund, but the NIF later denied any involvement, saying it had been carried out on behalf of the Goldblum Fund, with which it had only indirect links in unrelated projects.

The survey, conducted by well-known local pollsters Dialog, reportedly asked 503 Jewish adults questions devised by a panel of civil rights activists and academics. It claimed to show that 39 percent of respondents believe there is a “slight” form of apartheid in Israel, and that 19% say there is “heavy” apartheid. Thirty-one percent said apartheid was “not practiced” in Israel, and 11% “didn’t know.” This finding was summarized in a separate box on Haaretz’s front page as ostensibly proving that “58% believe that an apartheid rule already exists in Israel today.”

The Haaretz article acknowledged that “the survey conductors say perhaps the term ‘apartheid’ was not clear enough to some interviewees. However, the interviewees did not object strongly to describing Israel’s character as ‘apartheid’ already today, without annexing the territories.”

The news article summarizing the survey was written by Gideon Levy, a Haaretz columnist known for fierce criticism of Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians.

Levy also penned an opinion piece, which appeared alongside his news report, which was headlined, “Apartheid, without shame and without guilt,” and in which he stated: “We are racists, Israelis say, we are apartheid, and we actually want to be apartheid.”

The survey was said to find that 38% of Israeli Jews want to annex an unspecified proportion of West Bank territory with settlements on it, while 48% do not. The scope of any such annexation was not clear.

If the territories were annexed, another question found, 69% of those polled would not want 2.5 million Palestinians to have voting rights in the enlarged Israel. The significance of this finding, too, was hard to assess, given both the formulation of the question and the fact that there did not appear to have been a separate question asking whether Israeli Jews want to annex the entire West Bank.

Seventy-four percent of the Israeli Jewish public was said to consider separate roads for Jews and Arabs in the West Bank to be a good or necessary solution, another question in the survey found.

In other questions, a solid majority of 59% said Jews should have preference over Arabs when competing for jobs in government ministries, and 49% said the state should “treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones.” Forty-two percent said it would bother them to have an Arab neighbor; and 42% also said it would bother them to have an Arab student in their child’s class.

The survey claimed to show that the ultra-Orthodox and religious respondents were by far the most discriminatory in their attitudes. Eighty-two percent of ultra-Orthodox respondents said the state should show preferential treatment to Jews over Arabs, and 70% support barring Israeli-Arabs from voting, it said.

The secular public, in contrast, was the most tolerant — 73% said they wouldn’t mind Arab students in their child’s school and 68% would live in an apartment building alongside Arabs.

Haaretz claimed the poll was commissioned by the Yisraela Golblum Fund of The New Israel Fund, an NGO based in the US which describes itself as “the leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis.” The NIF later denied any tie to the poll. “The poll released today by the Goldblum Fund/Dialog was not commissioned or sponsored or in any way related to the New Israel Fund,” Naomi Paiss, NIF Vice President, Public Affairs, wrote in an email. “The Goldblum Fund gets some funding from Signing Anew, a non-related organization with whom we sometimes jointly sponsor projects, but this wasn’t one of them.”

Levy’s news piece stated that “the survey indicates that a third to a half of Jewish Israelis want to live in a state that practices formal, open discrimination against its Arab citizens. An even larger majority wants to live in an apartheid state if Israel annexes the territories.”

The second of those assertions seemed particularly hard to gauge, again, since there was no question published showing what proportion of Israeli Jews would want to annex all the territories. Plainly, were Israel to annex the territories, it would risk diluting its Jewish character or its democratic basis, since a bigger state might include almost as many non-Jews as Jews, and this would presumably affect Israeli attitudes to the rights of non-Jews in an enlarged sovereign Israel.

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