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  • Israeli Attitudes on Civil Rights, Democracy and Arab-Jewish Relations
  • Theodore Sasson (bio)
Neha Sahgal and Alan Cooperman, Israel's Religiously Divided Society, Pew Research Center, 2016 (236 pp).
Sammy Smooha, Still Playing by the Rules: Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel (Haifa, 2017) (366 pp).
Tamar Hermann, Israel Democracy Index, (Israel Democracy Institute, 2016) (307 pp).

In March 2016, the Pew Research Center released "Israel's Religiously Divided Society", a much-anticipated report on the attitudes and practices of Israeli Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. Although focused on religion and designed partly to enable comparison with the 2013 Pew report on American Jewry, the Israeli study captured press attention for its striking findings on the attitudes of Israeli Jews toward Arabs. The study reported that 48% of Israeli Jews favored expulsion of Arabs from Israel, and 79% believed Israeli Jews should enjoy preferential treatment.

The British newspaper, The Independent, reported the story under the headline, "Nearly half of Israeli Jews believe in ethnic cleansing".1 The American Jewish newspaper The Forward led with the finding that "Almost half of all Israeli Jews are in favor of transferring or expelling the state's Arab population," a fact the newspaper described as "staggering".2 Writing in the Huffington Post, Arab American Institute president James Zogby summed up the study's main contribution: "With 8 in 10 Israeli Jews supporting [End Page 217] preferential treatment for themselves at the expense of the 20% of the population that is Arab and with almost one-half of Israeli Jews calling for Arab citizens to be expelled or transferred—we can only conclude that this is a society and a political culture that is in trouble."3 The news headlines fit neatly with the Pew Research Center's own framing of the survey results. In a "Fact Tank" blog published simultaneously with the study, Pew flagged the finding on expelling Arabs as one of the survey's "7 Key Findings".4

The Pew report and much of the press coverage duly noted that other surveys had reported discrepant findings, singling out, in particular, University of Haifa's Sammy Smooha's "Index of Arab-Jewish Relations" (IAJR) and Tamar Hermann's "Israel Democracy Index" (IDI). As it happens, both professors Smooha and Hermann fielded new surveys in the same year as Pew and reported their findings in book-length monographs. This review essay examines the findings of the three surveys on the topics of civil rights, democracy, and Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.

Most years since 2003, Smooha surveyed Arab citizens and Jewish Israelis on their views of one another and the state. The 2017 report, Still Playing by the Rules, describes findings of a survey conducted during May, June, and July 2015.5 Smooha frames the report with an historical narrative of the development of Arab society in the state of Israel. During the first decades of Israeli statehood, Arabs who remained in Israel after 1948 were subjected to widespread confiscation of lands and military rule. In the years since, Arab citizens of the state developed as a linguistic, cultural, and religious minority. They held a subordinate class position, wielded limited political power, and were subject to governmental, housing, and employment discrimination. Despite this harsh history, Arab citizens generally avoided political violence. This is because, as Smooha has argued in numerous articles as well as the IAJR surveys, Israel's democratic institutions enabled the Arab minority to struggle for improved status through contentious politics rather than violence, and because Arabs recognized and appreciated the benefits of living in an advanced and stable country.

In recent years, a complex balance of forces has shaped Arab-Jewish relations. On the one hand, the Gaza wars and the rhetoric of right wing politicians in the last election—including the prime minister's notorious plea to his voters to turnout at the polls to offset the Arab vote—have contributed to feelings of alienation. On the other, Arab citizens have increasingly viewed Israel as a stable country in a region upended by civil war, and they have achieved substantial upward mobility, through higher education and by moving into white-collar occupations. [End...


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