Poll: Most Israelis have a positive view of Jewish-Arab relations

A ‘Local Call’ poll shows a broad range of areas where Jews and Arabs see the benefits of cooperation. But that doesn’t mean Jewish Israelis are ready to let Arabs hold positions of power, namely joining the government. The surprising bit: most Arabs would support their parties joining an Israeli government.

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Jewish and Arab protesters march during a demonstration against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016

Judging from the current Israeli election cycle and the various campaigns competing, it would be easily to conclude that Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel have completely failed to build a shared life together. The campaigns are filled with insulting and racist messaging that is being disseminated every which way.

It’s a shame that Israeli leaders aren’t more attentive to the majority of the country’s citizens, who support values of cooperation, believe that relations between Jews and Arabs in the country are already good, and acknowledge the national identity of the other — the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, respectively. Those observations aren’t a lofty leftist theory, but the results of a new poll commissioned by Local Call.

The poll was written and analyzed by Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin and David Reis together with Local Call. The internet panel was conducted by New Wave Research between March 28 and April 1, and included a sample of 414 Arab and 411 Jewish Israelis (weighted to their actual proportions in society). The sample was drawn from an internet panel; the margin of error is 3.5 percent.

Despite the predominant appearance of schisms and hostility between the two populations in Israel, most of the Jewish respondents (53 percent) said that in their day-to-day lives, relations between Jews and Arabs are generally positive. Only one-third reported negative relations in their personal experience. An even smaller minority (13 percent) said that they don’t have enough contact with Arabs to answer the question. In other words, the overwhelming majority, 87 percent of the Jewish respondents, based their answers on personal experience.

Broken down along ideological lines, the results refute the common claim of right-wingers in Israel that they are the only ones who reallyknow Arabs (both in the occupied territories and Israeli citizens) due to their geographic proximity, as opposed to ideological leftists from Tel Aviv and its suburbs. The poll shows the opposite to be true: 20 percent of Jewish right-wing respondents said they have no contact with Arabs in their day-to-day life. Among left-wing Jewish respondents, only 6 percent said they have no contact. Among politically centrist Jews, only 9 percent said they don’t know any Arabs.Image removed.

The Israeli right in Israel is also fond of insisting that relations between Jews and Arabs are good, and become tense only when left-wing activists and Arab leaders instigate political protests among Arab citizens. In reality, right-wing Israeli Jews said that relations between Jews and Arabs are bad at a significantly higher rate (40 percent) than left-wingers (24 percent).

The poll was not designed to determine whether positive relations between the two groups were the cause or the result of political-ideological orientation. The results do, however, show a correlation between having contact with the other and a positive appraisal of relations between the two groups.

Among Arab respondents, the results were even more surprising: three-quarters (76 percent) said that relations between Jews and Arabs are generally positive in daily life. The number of Arab respondents who said they don’t have enough contact with Jews to provide an answer was very low (six percent). Notably, even after years of political attacks and campaigns against Arab citizens of Israel, culminating in the Jewish Nation-State Law, still the large majority of Arab respondents gave a good grade to Jewish-Arab relations in Israel today.

There can be no doubt that Arab society in Israel is in a state of shock and anxiety over political developments in the country, but it turns out that in their day-to-day lives, most Arabs still report positive relations with Jewish Israelis. That said, it’s troubling to discover that among the youngest group of Arab respondents, those between the ages of 18 and 24, the number who reported “positive relations” was lower — 67 percent as opposed to 80 percent of those over 35 years old. Here, too, the more skeptical group reported that it had less direct contact with Jews — 10 percent of those aged 18 to 24 said that they have no such contact, as opposed to only 4 percent of those over 35 years old. It seems that positive experiences accumulated over the course of life contribute to a sense of positive relations – assuming that the contact is in fact positive.

Another series of questions in the poll examined the two societies’ ideas on cooperation between Jews and Arabs on various social issues: the environment, workers’ rights, and women’s rights. These issues are distinct from the more sensitive matters of national identity and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the poll shows clear support for cooperation in those arenas. In each of those topics, and across the entire sample, between 55 and 58 percent said that cooperation would help advance those issues. Only a small minority, between 10 and 14 percent, said that such cooperation would actually harm the struggles to advance those issues. Another 30 to 35 percent said they didn’t think Jewish-Arab cooperation would make any difference.

Here, too, the enthusiasm of Arab respondents is noteworthy. In response to the question about Jewish-Arab cooperation in the advancement of women’s rights, a clear majority of 72 percent among Arabs said such cooperation would advance the struggle, as opposed to a still positive but lukewarm 54 percent of Jews. It’s worth noting here that even among the Jewish respondents, the percentage who support such cooperation is still much higher than those who think it would cause harm. But the survey shows a large divide between the very high support by Arabs, as opposed to the modest majority of Jews. The same phenomenon reappears in the answers to other questions.

There was only one arena where Arab respondents had significantly less faith in the utility of Jewish-Arab cooperation: in advancing a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only 62 percent of Arabs said it would have a positive contribution — still a clear majority, but lower than the results for the other issues. That drop-off is likely a result of despair and disappointment, considering that the percentage of Arab respondents who said it wouldn’t make a difference was higher here (23 percent) than in relation to the other topics. Among Jews, the responses weren’t significantly different from the other questions: more than half (53 percent) said Jewish-Arab cooperation could help advance a political solution to the conflict.

Even on the level of national identity, the source of so many tensions in Israeli society, the poll gave encouraging results, indicating a measure of mutual respect. In a very direct question, the interviewees were asked to state whether they believe the other’s nation or peoplehood actually exists, or only the nation to which they belong: Jews were asked if the Palestinian people exists in addition to the Jewish people, or whether only the Jewish people exist (in Hebrew, the word am denotes both “people” and “nation.” Arabs were asked whether the Jewish and Palestinian peoples both exist, or only the Palestinian people.Image removed.

This blunt question forced respondents to give straight answers, and it also gave them a clear opportunity to negate the national identity of the other. Most of the respondents in both groups chose to recognize the other: a slim majority of Jews (52 percent) recognized both peoples, while 48 percent said that only the Jewish people exists.

To be sure, the results can be interpreted either way: as a glass half empty or half full. The fact that nearly half of Jewish Israelis negate the existence of the other, the indigenous people’s national identity, is grave. It recalls the (infamous) Pew survey from 2016, which found that 48 percent of Jewish Israelis support the expulsion of Arabs from Israel. On the other hand, the concept of a majority means something in a democracy, and the majority of Jewish Israelis recognize the existence of the Palestinian people.

Among the Arab respondents, there is a consensus: 94 percent recognize both peoples. One could interpret those results in various ways: perhaps Arabs were merely responding to the fact that the State of Israel is Jewish. Perhaps they recognize the Jewish people out of courtesy or hope that mutual recognition is beneficial for both sides. Either way, the results once again refute the claim that the Palestinian citizens of Israel don’t recognize the Jewish people. They do, and with a level of unanimity that cannot be challenged.

Just don’t expect political power

Despite support for cooperation on social and political issues, and even for acknowledging the other’s national identity, the poll also showed an uncompromising opposition among Jewish Israelis to their Arab compatriots acquiring certain forms of political power.

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Asked whether they would consider voting for an Arab political party if that party represented their views, 88 percent of the Jewish respondents said no. Only four percent said they would consider it and the remainder said they didn’t know. There is virtually no cross-section of Jewish-Israeli society that supported such a proposal, save for a small percentage (16 percent) of respondents who identified as left-wing. It seems safe to conclude that Jewish voters see Arab political parties — irrespective of their political views — as existing solely to represent Arabs and not any other purpose.

Among Arabs, the picture is vastly different. Nearly half of the Arab respondents (47 percent) said they would consider voting for a Jewish party. A minority of only 19 percent stated they would not consider voting for a Jewish political party. More than one-third (34 percent) said they didn’t know. It’s important to note that in the current political reality there is no real chance of Palestinian citizens of Israel voting for Jewish parties in significant numbers; the data here should not be seen as a prediction. That said, the poll indicates a changing approach of Arab society in Israel — the idea of voting for a Jewish party is gaining legitimacy. So it should be no surprise then, that among Arabs, just like among Jews, those identifying as secular are more open to crossing ethno-political lines: 67 percent of secular Arabs said they would consider voting for a Jewish political party, and that number is even higher among Druze.

The most conspicuous example of Jewish Israelis’ lack of desire to advance equality on a political level, however, is their response to the idea of an Arab party joining Israel’s governing coalition. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said that such a scenario is unacceptable. As expected, most of those who were opposed (86 percent) self-identified as right-wingers. Additionally, most of those who opposed the proposition (around two-thirds) are under the age of 44 — a higher proportion than the general population.

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The results among Arabs couldn’t be more different. Despite some calls to boycott the Israeli political system, 87 percent of Arab citizens support the prospect of their parties joining the country’s governing coalition. Even 90 percent of those citizens who self-identify as Palestinian or Palestinian-Israeli support this.

The poll also asked the Arab-Palestinian respondents about their identity: whether they self-identify more as “Arab,” “Arab-Israeli,” “Palestinian,” or “Palestinian-Israeli.” Here, too, the trend is clear: 68 percent chose “Arab” or “Arab-Israeli,” and only 32 percent chose “Palestinian” or “Palestinian-Israeli.” In total, 65 percent chose a term that includes the word “Israeli.” Those who described themselves as religious, said they self-identify as “Palestinian” or “Palestinian-Israeli” at an even higher rate than the general Arab population, compared to 19 percent of those who described themselves as secular.

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Compared to the results of a poll conducted by +972 Magazine in 2014, the findings in the current poll show that the number of respondents self-identifying as “Arab-Israeli” has risen , and the number of those identifying only as “Palestinian” dropped. This appears to be a dramatic change, and there are certainly ways to qualify the finding: The margin of error was higher in the 2014 poll due to a smaller sample size of Arab respondents. Perhaps following the ratification  of the Jewish Nation-State Law, some of the respondents in the 2019 poll were more fearful, and sought to appease the poll with their answers. Disclaimers aside, one thing is clear: there is no evidence of a trend in the opposite direction.

There is still a long way to go before Israel can be considered a just society that treats all of its citizens equally. But one cannot factually say that Israeli Jews have no partner among Arab citizens. On a social and civic level, Jews too believe in cooperation and the inclusion of Jews and Arabs alike. Perhaps the day is not far off when that sentiment extends to political power as well.

This article was first published on Local Call, a Hebrew-language website co-published by “972 — Advancement of Citizen Journalism” and Just Vision. Read it here. The Heinrich Böll Foundation helped fund the survey.