Groundbreaking Pew Survey

Almost Half of Israeli Jews Back Transfer or Expulsion of Arabs

Survey by Washington-based think tank, criticized for vague wording of question on expulsion, also shows decline in proportion of Israeli Jews and Arabs who believe peace between Israel and a future Palestinian state is possible.

Im Tirtzu activists clashing with students at Tel Aviv University while calling for closure of left-leaning Political Science Department at Ben-Gurion University.
Right-wing activists clash with other students at Tel Aviv University. Oren Ziv

About half of Israel’s Jews support the transfer of Arabs to other countries, according to a survey by the American Pew Research Center published Tuesday. The poll was conducted among Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis from the end of 2014 until the middle of 2015, before the latest wave of terror.

One of the questions in the survey, based on face-to-face interviews of 5,601 individuals, asked to what degree they agreed with the following statement: “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” The result, among the Jewish respondents: Twenty-one percent “strongly agree” and 27 percent “mostly agree.” If those two groups are combined, about half of Israeli Jews questioned – 48 percent – support transfer of Arab citizens. On the other hand, a similar proportion – 46 percent – say they oppose such a move, with 29 percent saying that they “don’t really agree” and 17 percent responding that they “don’t agree at all” to the expulsion of Arabs.

Among religious Jewish citizens, the percentage who agree to expulsion, according to the poll, is higher than among Jewish Israelis as a whole: Seventy-one percent among the religious community, 69 percent among the ultra-Orthodox and 54 percent of traditional Jews support transfer. In the secular community the trend is the opposite: A majority, 58 percent, oppose expulsion, while more than one-third (37 percent) are in favor.

For more coverage of the Pew Research findings: Israeli Jews More Likely to Avoid Synagogue, Less Likely to Eat Pork Than Their American Cousins | First Pew Study in Israel Finds Increasing Polarization Amongst Jews

As could be expected, the proportion of support for such a move was found to be higher among respondents describing themselves as aligned with the right wing, than among voters for the center and the left: Seventy-two percent on the right, 37 percent in the center and 10 percent on the left support the expulsion of Arabs from Israel. 

Support for transfer is higher among Jews of Mizrahi/Sephardi origin (i.e., from North Africa and the Middle East) than among Ashkenazi Jews (from Europe). A majority of the former – 56 percent – were in favor, as compared to only 40 percent of the latter.

The more educated the respondent, the lower the chances he or she would support transfer, the pollsters found: Fifty-seven percent of those who have not completed high school said they would support the move, compared to those 50 percent of those who finished high school, and 38 percent of those with a academic degree.

The survey was conducted prior to the latest wave of terror in Israel which erupted last October, and thus doesn’t reflect a possible change in opinions on this issue.

Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew – a nonpartisan, Washington-based think tank – told Haaretz that the question regarding support for transfer was deliberately phrased in a general, direct and simple manner. There was no mention, for example, of specific scenarios or details, such as compensation for expulsion, exactly who would be affected by it, and so on. In statistical terms, he noted, the pollsters see the Jewish community in Israel as being evenly divided between supporters and opponents of expulsion.

‘Misleading question’

For his part, Israel Prize laureate Sammy Smooha, a professor of sociology at the University of Haifa, has criticized the wording of the transfer query in the Pew survey.  

“Although it’s clear that support for expulsion and transfer should be condemned, the wording of the question is vague,” he told Haaretz, adding, “the way the question is presented, the statement ‘to expel Arabs from Israel’ is noncommittal and even easy to agree with.”

Smooha explained that the question as phrased did not specify the identity of candidates for expulsion, so that it’s possible that respondents thought it referred to the transfer of West Bank residents who reside in Israel proper but are not Israeli citizens per se. Moreover, the sociologist said it does not state whether the expulsion would affect all Arab citizens in Israel, or only those who support the country’s enemies or are deemed to be subversive. “In other words, this question can be understood in various ways,” he said.

He also believes that the poll “reflects alienation and disgust with the Arabs more than it attests to agreement to grant legitimacy to the government to expel them, [because] the statement presented in the survey is unrealistic and unfeasible.”

Since 2003, Smooha himself has been researching the relations between the country’s Jewish and Arab citizens. 

“It’s absolutely clear to me that about a quarter of the Jews oppose coexistence with the Arab citizens, but the vast majority of Jews accepts coexistence,” he noted. “Among the Arab public, too, between a quarter and a third oppose coexistence. On both sides there is a population that rules out coexistence, but they won’t set the rules. That will be done by the mainstream, which is prepared to make concessions to the other side.”

Added Smooha: “The Jews have complex positions. While they wouldn’t object if Arabs left the country, they don’t want the government to initiate such a move. The Jews have come to understand that the Arabs are here to stay and that they have to get along, and they don’t want to upset everything or sabotage coexistence.”

The Haifa sociologist has asked Jewish subjects a question similar to that posed by Pew, but with different wording: “Do you agree or disagree that the Arab citizens should leave the country and receive appropriate compensation?” The responses received in the latest survey, conducted last year, differ from those of the present Pew poll: Only 32 percent said they would agree with the statement. 

Smooha: “Throughout the years we are seeing a decline in the proportion of Jews who agree that Arabs should leave the country in return for [monetary] compensation. In 2003 the percentage was 39 percent. In other words, there is no majority in favor, and there is also a decline.” 

The new Pew poll also indicated a decline in the proportion of both Israeli Jews and Arabs who believe there is a chance for peace between Israel and a future Palestinian state: Only 43 percent of Jewish respondents and 50 percent of the Arabs questioned said they believed there was such a chance, as of 2015. In a 2013 survey by the U.S. organization, 46 percent of Jews and 74 percent of Arabs believed in peace between the two entities.

The latest poll also examined feelings of discrimination among Muslim citizens of Israel. About one-third (37 percent) said they believed they had suffered discrimination because of their religion; 17 percent had been questioned by members of Israel’s security establishment; 15 percent had been prevented from traveling; and 15 percent were threatened or physically assaulted because of their religion in the past year, while 13 percent reported that their property had been damaged for that same reason.

Other parameters

The Pew survey was conducted between October 14, 2014 and May 21, 2015, and was based on face-to-face interviews with interviewees who were residents of Israel aged 18 and above – a total of 3,789 Jews, 871 Muslims, 468 Christians and 439 Druze, including settlers and Arabs from East Jerusalem.

The poll also examined other parameters that reflect divisions in Israeli society. For example, one of the most interesting findings was that a majority of Israeli Jews (76 percent) believe their country can be both a Jewish and a democratic state, while a majority of Israeli Arabs (64 percent) do not believe this is possible.

Moreover, 42 percent of Jewish respondents said the settlements help Israel’s security, while 30 percent said they harm the country’s security. Also, 91 percent of those respondents said that Israel is vital to the long-term survival of the Jewish people, and 79 percent said that Israel should “favor” Jews. A majority of the Jews questioned (62 percent) would give priority to the principles of democracy over halakha (traditional Jewish law) in the event of a conflict between them; 64 percent oppose making halakha the law of the state; and 63 percent oppose having no public transportation run on Shabbat throughout the country. A majority of the Jews polled by Pew (72 percent) support mandatory induction in the army of the ultra-Orthodox, and oppose gender separation

Other interesting results from the survey: Forty-seven percent of all Jewish respondents (and 35 percent of secular Jewish ones) oppose permitting women to pray aloud at the Western Wall, while 54 percent oppose authorizing Conservative and Reform rabbis to perform weddings. A significant number of secular Jews (28 percent) also said they would oppose this.

The Pew researchers also found that slightly more than half of all Israeli Jews (54 percent) and slightly more than a quarter of secular Israeli Jews (28 percent) feel that it is “very important” to be Jewish. About a third of all Israeli Jews (36 percent) and about half of secular Israeli Jews (53 percent) said their Jewishness is “somewhat important” to them, and 10 percent of all Jews and 18 percent of secular Jews said being Jewish was not important to them.