Pew Poll Reveals the Pathology of Israeli Jews

Sixty-five percent claim remembering the Holocaust is essential to their Jewish identity, suggesting victimhood is embedded in the national character.

Members of right-wing organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014.
Ofer Vaknin

Maybe you haven’t lost all hope about the situation here in Israel, especially regarding Arab-Jewish relations. But then comes the Pew Research Center and kicks us while we’re down. The fact that the think tank conducted its survey before the terror wave began on October 1 only amplifies the shock and fear.

It’s frightening to think what the results would be now that knife attack follows knife attack, with Palestinians being “neutralized” along the way. After all, the figures before this lone-wolf intifada show strong support for ideas like transfer – 21 percent of Jewish respondents “strongly agree” that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel”; 27 percent “mostly agree.”

The numbers reflect a loathing of Arabs, but some of the figures soothe a liberal heart. Most Jews (62 percent) prefer democratic principles over Jewish law when the two contradict; most (64 percent) oppose turning Jewish law into state law, and a similar percentage supports public transportation on the Sabbath.

One obvious conclusion is that it’s easier for Jewish Israelis to embrace liberal positions when Arabs aren’t involved. Beyond that, the survey shows the distance between feelings and the concrete expression of racist, religious and nationalist ideas.

Seventy-nine percent of the respondents feel Israel should discriminate in favor of Jews. There's no breakdown of what extra rights Jews should have; that remains the realm of wishful thinking – hence its popularity. The bills being promoted by the government, as well as the racist initiatives and statements by cabinet members, are merely an attempt to address the Jews’ wishful thinking.

Note that when the attempts are too crude, like Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s “apartheid buses” initiative – banning Palestinian laborers from Israeli-run public transportation in the West Bank – the attempts fail. Israeli Jews still abhor the concrete expression of the hierarchy they seek to instate, which is perhaps of some comfort.

This hierarchy is clear from the most eyebrow-raising item in the survey that can’t be excused as a mood, though it does reflect a state of mind. Sixty-five percent of the Jewish respondents claim that remembering the Holocaust is the most essential part of their Jewish identity.

The Holocaust was a very concrete event that happened not long ago in historical terms. But turning it into a seminal event à la the Exile reflects a fraught emotional stage in coping with trauma.

The significance of this statistic is that victimhood is embedded in the Israeli Jewish character. It has nothing to do with current events; the terrorism, which no one denies, merely affirms it. In any event, this victimhood warrants more rights than other peoples deserve.

This pathology is grounds for despair because it leaves the Palestinians very little room to maneuver – to give vent to their anxiety or remain suspects forever, or at least be second-class citizens in the national Jewish home. Either way, it’s hard to build a dialogue with any chance of success based on such concepts.

Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich was delighted by the survey’s results, tweeting that “there’s someone to lead.” Against the backdrop of the depressing statement by the Balad and Hadash parties that they oppose classifying Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, it’s a concern that Smotrich’s twisted thinking will lead to deeds.

It’s impossible to tell anymore who’s getting swept away by whom – the people by the leaders or vice versa. Won’t somebody at least try to stop the descent?