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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Over the past decade, mainstream political forces, especially within the Yisrael Beiteinu party, have raised question marks over even the citizenship of Israeli Arabs. The leader of the party, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, argued that citizenship and its attendant rights should be contingent on pledging allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state. But this campaign seems to have had little if any impact on public opinion.

When the campaign was at its height, during the general election of 2009, the proportion of Israeli Jews who said that Arabs have the right to live in the state as a minority with full citizenship rights was actually at a high of 78.8%. Today, the figure is down slightly to 75% — but still 2.4% higher than it was a decade ago.

Smooha told the Forward that he believes that the politicians’ antagonistic stands toward Arabs has helped them in their competition against each other for hard-line Jewish voters, but has not swayed the attitudes of others toward Arabs. “The anti-Arab campaign is just successful in helping them to keep their constituents,” he said.

Nevertheless, some academics have dismissed the survey’s findings.

“If the political system does not reflect the will of the people, then Israeli politics is different in its politics than any democratic country, and I don’t trust that,” said Amal Jamal, author of the 2001 book “Arab Minority Nationalism in Israel: The Politics of Indigeneity.”

Jamal, a member of Israel’s Druze minority and head of Tel Aviv University’s graduate program in political science and political communication, told the Forward in an interview that he thinks the statistics show only that Israeli Jews have become savvier in telling pollsters what they think people want to hear. “Public diplomacy is part of the Israeli political culture; people want to be seen abroad as a prosperous democracy and peaceful society,” he said.

Jamal believes that a large section of the Jewish public is on board with hard-line politicians, but that this sector of the public just “doesn’t want to be that blunt.”

Meanwhile, in contrast to its findings on Jews, Smooha’s survey of Arabs shows that those citizens have become more antagonistic toward the state and toward Jews.

Over the past decade, the proportion of Israeli Arabs who deny Israel’s right to exist has skyrocketed to 24.5% from 11.2%. Only 12.2% feel that Israeli citizenship is the most important aspect of their identity — down from 29.6% in 2003. And some 58.6% think it will be justified if Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza start a third intifada should the stalemate in the peace process continue.

Smooha believes that the figures reflect a spiral of disillusionment in the Arab sector stemming from the collapse of the Oslo process, Israeli military actions in Gaza and the growth of the Jewish radical right in the Knesset and in public life. In his understanding, while these phenomena failed to radicalize the Jewish public, they “succeeded in reinforcing the alienation of the Arab minority and in engendering growing fear of a collapse of democracy among the elites of the center and the left.”


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