Majority of Arab Israeli Youth Think Minority Rights Are Important. Their Jewish Counterparts Disagree, Poll Shows

Findings are part of broad German-Israeli survey that compared results on varying issues among young Israeli people and other youth across the Middle East

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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A demonstration in Tel Aviv organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee.
A demonstration in Tel Aviv organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee against the nation-state law, Nov. 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

Young Israeli Arabs attach vastly greater importance on average to protecting minority rights than their Jewish and Palestinian counterparts, a survey of attitudes of young people in Israel and across the Middle East shows.

On a scale of 1 to 10, fully 82 percent of Israeli Arabs surveyed rated minority rights either a 9 or 10. Among Israeli Jewish respondents, the figure was 37 percent, while in the Palestinian Authority, it was 34 percent.

The average response from all of the Arab countries surveyed was 44 percent. The countries where the number of young people who ranked the value of protecting minority rights a 9 or a 10 was especially low were Morocco (17 percent) and Egypt (20 percent).

“The degree of optimism among young Jews in Israel has decreased dramatically since 2010,” the newly released report also noted, “while the level of optimism among young Arabs [in Israel] has been constantly rising since 2004. In 2016, the optimism of young Jews regarding their personal lives in Israel was at its lowest level since 1998, and even lower than it was following the outbreak of the second Intifada. However, the degree of optimism of young Arabs is the highest recorded during those years. In 2016, for the first time, young Arabs felt more confident of their ability to fulfill their personal goals in Israel (74 percent of the Arab youth), compared to Jews (56 percent).”

The data were part of a recently released comparative study on a range of issues among young people by carried out by the German research institute the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Tel Aviv-based Macro Center for Political Economics.

In Israel it is based on a 2016 survey of 1,200 young people between the ages 15 to 18 and 21 to 24. The study compares the polling results from a year later among some 9,000 young people in Jordan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen, and among Palestinians and Syrian refugees.

It is entitled “Generation Z in the MENA Region – Similarities and Variances among Young Adults in Israel and Selected MENA Arab Countries,” a reference to the Middle East North Africa region.

When asked about the importance of freedom of expression, on average Jewish young people in Israel ranked this value similar to its average ranking in the Arab world (8 out of 10). By comparison, young Israeli Arabs ranked the importance of freedom of expression as the highest level among the groups studied: 9.4. Among respondents from the Palestinian Authority, the score for freedom of expression was slightly higher than among Jewish Israelis, 8.3.

The country with the highest ranking among the Arab world when it comes to the importance of freedom of expression was Tunisia, with an average score of 9.1.

Correlation with religious observance

In Israel, secular Jews are the biggest supporters of freedom of expression, according to the survey. Ninety-two percent of them said that the value was important – meaning that they gave it a ranking of 6 to 10. This figure declined based on the degree of religiosity that the respondents ascribed to themselves. It was important to an average of 86 percent of religiously traditional respondents, 76 percent of religious-Zionist young people polled and 71 percent of the ultra-Orthodox surveyed.

In the Arab world, the relationship was the reverse, with 78 percent of secular Arab respondents saying freedom of expression was important, compared to 91 percent of the young people who described themselves as very religious. This was particularly apparent in Egypt, where only 50 percent of the nonreligious respondents said freedom of expression was important, compared to 68 percent of those who described themselves as traditional and 88 percent of the most religious group. The data for Jordan was similar.

“It seems likely that this support reflects the decades under secular authoritarian rulers in those countries, in which religious movements were associated with political subversion and were therefore suppressed – particularly in Egypt,” the study states.

The Macro Center has conducted separate surveys over the past two decades examining the views of Israeli Jewish young people regarding equal political rights. In 1998, 86.2 percent of young Jewish Israelis viewed them as an important or very important value, but by 2010, the percentage had fallen to 81.6 percent, and in 2016, it plummeted to just 63.1 percent.

There are trends in the Arab world in the direction of liberal values and openness, while [in Israel] the trend is the opposite to a certain extent,” Roby Nathanson, one of the authors of the study, which was coauthored by Dahlia Scheindlin and Yanai Weiss, told Haaretz. “If these trends continue, we will not be able to stand behind the statement that we are the only democracy in the Middle East. Democracy is not just putting a voting slip in a ballot box. Human rights, minority rights and freedom of expression are no less important values,” Nathanson said.

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