Things Have Only Gotten Worse Since Pew Concluded Their Troubling Survey of Israel

Pew's questioning of 5,000 Israelis ended in May 2015. Since then, the yawning chasms in society have widened.

Police arresting ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters in Jerusalem's Shabbat Square, January 7, 2015.
Emil Salman

The American polling company Pew Research conducted an in-depth survey of 5,000 Israelis between October 2014 and May 2015, with respondents from every segment of society, including West Bank settlers and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. The findings, which were published this week, are worrying in and of themselves, but their gravity is heightened by the fact that in the months since the poll was conducted, the divisions within Israeli society have gotten even worse.

With regard to the internal make-up of Israeli Jews, about half of respondents self-identified as secular, three in 10 as traditional, 13 percent as religious and nine percent as ultra-Orthodox. The farther down this ladder you go, the greater the preference for Judaism over democracy becomes, heading toward a state governed by religious law. This threatens to erode the presumption that Israel is both a Jewish and a democratic state.

But the divisions within Jewish society are dwarfed by the yawning chasm between Jews and Arabs. Four out of every five Jews favors discriminating in favor of Jews. Fully 48 percent agree with the statement that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” Ultra-Orthodox, religious and traditional Jews all support that statement by large majorities. Only secular Jews somewhat balance out the picture – but even among this group, one third signed off on the transfer idea.

Given this, it’s no wonder that suspicions between the two peoples run so deep. The only thing they both agree on – in identical proportions, 40 percent each – is that their leaders aren’t worthy of their trust. Mutual fear and loathing are tainting the country and bringing forth an evil miasma of racism. This is fertile ground for violence and for abandoning dreams of coexistence, reconciliation and peace.

Demographic and political trends don’t raise any hopes for a change in these results. Religious radicalization on both sides is pushing secular Jews out of their former positions of power. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depends on religious, ultra-Orthodox and right-wing nationalist voters. With his sharp political senses, he knew just how to pluck the strings of anxiety and racism in order to win the last election with the help of inflammatory statements like “Arabs are going to the polls in droves.” Responsibility is also borne by the parties that comprise the Joint Arab List, which held aloof even from Meretz, and which this week signed up as Hezbollah supporters.

If these rifts aren’t healed, the fabric of shared life in Israel is liable to be damaged irreversibly. To prevent this, the government, and above all the prime minister, must stop causing conflict between different segments of society in order to reap political capital and do everything in their power to find a broad common denominator.