Israeli Attitudes Toward Arabs Soften — But the Feeling's Not Mutual

Arabs Harden Opinions Towards Jews

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Not the Norm: Israeli Arab children play next to wall daubed with racist graffiti. Hate crimes grab headlines but a new study suggests that Jewish attitudes towards Arabs have moderated slightly over time.
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Getty images Not the Norm: Israeli Arab children play next to wall daubed with racist graffiti. Hate crimes grab headlines but a new study suggests that Jewish attitudes towards Arabs have moderated slightly over time.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published August 03, 2013, issue of August 09, 2013.
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Despite widespread perceptions, Israeli Jews aren’t becoming more antagonistic toward Israeli Arabs. So concludes a new survey that also shows how Israeli Arab attitudes toward Jews have turned harsher.

The past four years have seen a wave of legislation that many Arabs and civil rights advocates view as attacks on the civil rights of Israel’s Arab citizens. The most prominent example, the so-called Nakba Law, permits cuts in government funds to private nongovernmental organizations and state-funded institutions that mark Israel’s Independence Day as Nakba Day, a common Palestinian reference to the occasion, which means “catastrophe day” in Arabic. The term, which offends many Israeli Jews, connotes for Israeli Arabs expulsions, land expropriations and loss of rights that they associate with the day.

Religious leaders and social activists have also mounted campaigns that are openly hostile to equal rights for Arab citizens. Most famous was the plea by right-wing rabbis in 2010 for Jews to refuse to rent or sell homes to Arabs. So-called “price tag” vandalism attacks against mosques by right-wing settlers in response to what they view as offensive government concessions to the Palestinians have also turned lately to Israeli Arab targets within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Earlier they took place only in the occupied West Bank.

But the Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel, an annual survey, suggests that the Israeli Jewish public does not support these developments. In fact, the survey’s findings indicate that even as some mainstream politicians, rabbis and activists on the right are upping the ante against Israel’s Arab minority, the general Jewish public is becoming more conciliatory.

“Whatever the media thinks, Jews have not become more extreme,” said Sammy Smooha, a senior professor of sociology at The University of Haifa who directed the survey, during his presentation of the survey’s findings at a June 30 conference in Jerusalem. The conference, attended by Jewish and Arab academics, public figures and politicians, was dedicated to debating the study.

The survey, which interviewed 700 Jewish citizens and 700 Arab citizens, is co-sponsored yearly by Haifa University and the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank that declares its mission as advancing democratic values in Israel. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7%.

Among other things, the survey’s findings suggest that the 2010 plea issued by state-funded rabbis to keep Arabs from moving into Jewish neighborhoods has fallen on deaf ears. According to the survey, the number of Israelis who are prepared to accept Arab neighbors has climbed by 10 percentage points over the last decade — and 7 percentage points since 2008. A majority of Israeli Jews are still against the idea, but the portion accepting it has grown to 45.7% from 34.5%. Openness toward Arabs attending Jewish schools has also grown, to 54.8% from 51.5%.


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