The Rift in Society Between Israeli Jews and Arabs Is Growing, Survey Shows

48 percent of Jewish pollsters said they wouldn't want to have Arabs as neighbors; the percentage of Arab respondents who acknowledged Israel's right to exist has plummeted compared to a similar poll from last year

An ultra-Orthodox man announces the start of Shabbat at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, October 12, 2012.
Bernat Armangue / AP

The rift between Israel’s Jews and Arabs has been widening, with fewer Israeli Arabs recognizing Israel’s right to exist and fewer Israeli Jews agreeing that Israeli Arabs should have full rights, according to a poll published by the University of Haifa’s Sammy Smooha.

Still, Prof. Smooha says that according to his Index of Arab-Jewish Relations, which comes out every two years, there is still common ground for a shared society.

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According to the 2017 installment, the percentage of Arab respondents who acknowledge Israel’s right to exist fell to 59 percent in 2017 from 66 percent in 2015. In that time, the proportion of Jewish respondents acknowledging that Arab citizens should have full rights declined to 74 percent from 80 percent.

Smooha has been tracking the relationship since 1976, while his index has been coming out since 2003.

The latest survey – a representative sample of 700 Arab and 700 Jewish adults – was conducted from May to August 2017. The margin of error is 3.7 percent.

Some 48 percent of Jews do not want to have Arabs as neighbors, an increase of seven percentage points from two years before. In that time their willingness to let Arab children study at school with their own children sank to 51.5 percent from 57.5 percent.

Between 2015 and 2017, the right-wing government spurred Arabs and Jews to increasingly critical outlooks, Smooha says, but he still believes there is solid ground for coexistence.

“A majority of Arabs and a majority of Jews believe in a shared society,” he told Haaretz, adding that they accept coexistence within Israel proper and feel that Israel is a good place to live. “They are committed to democracy as a mechanism to regulate their relations and agree that equality is the basis for coexistence.”

While Israeli Jews have been drifting rightward, the percentage of Israeli Arabs who acknowledge Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state sank to 49 percent in 2017 from 53.5 percent in 2015.

Almost 64 percent of the Jewish respondents said they avoid Arab towns in Israel, an increase of four percentage points from two years before.

But Smooha says that while the Jews’ attitude toward the Arabs is “less positive,” they have not become more anti-Arab – and neither the Jews nor the Arabs want radical change.

The greatest sense of belonging and partnership existed back in 1995, in the survey before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Smooha says. Arabs and Jews were getting along partly because Rabin had agreed to divide the land and recognized the Palestinian people, while his government relied on Arab parties, albeit outside the governing coalition.

“That shows that policy is highly important to the Arab minority, and that their positions become more moderate in view of policy they consider positive,” Smooha said.

He noted that in 1976, about 20 percent of Israeli Arabs ruled out accepting Israel’s right to exist, a figure that fell to 6.7 percent in 1995. But by 2017, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that figure had shot up to 24.8 percent.

Meanwhile, among Jews, the notion that Arabs should leave Israel, with compensation, fell to 29.9 percent in 2017 from 32.2 percent in 2015 and 41 percent in 2006.