SEATTLE — As Europe grapples with the Syrian refugee crisis and an accompanying rising tide of Islamophobia, Israel faces an issue even more intrinsic to its existence.
Before it was born in 1948, the land Israel occupies was home to a large Arab majority. Nearly 1 million indigenous Arab inhabitants were expelled, but 250,000 remained and their numbers have since risen to over 1 million.
These are not refugees, like those escaping from war-torn Libya, Syria and Iraq to Europe. They are citizens of the state, born within its boundaries and entitled, at least theoretically, to all the rights and privileges accorded to the Jewish majority.
This contradiction exists at the heart of the state of Israel. It results in a tremendous amount of fear, guilt, ignorance and hostility from Jews against their fellow Palestinian citizens. Where there is fear, there is Islamophobia, or in Israel’s case, “Arabophobia.” It even creeps into the views of the most liberal and “enlightened” of Israel’s academic class.
Haifa University Prof. Sammy Smooha has made a career of studying the identity and charting the views of Israel’s Arab minority. He publishes a regular survey of Israeli-Palestinian public opinion, “Still Playing by the Rules” (a literal Hebrew rendering of the title is even more telling: “Not Breaking the Dishes”). He shared the results of his 2015 survey (in Hebrew) with MintPress News.
The titles of Smooha’s survey clearly denote the outsider nature of Palestinians in Israeli life. The English title seeks to reassure Israelis that the minority is still obedient and playing within the rules established by the Jewish majority, while the Hebrew title offers an image of domesticity in which “Arabs” are civilized and properly house-trained.
Poll raises questions of stability, ‘moderate’ outlook
[Author’s Note: All references below to “Palestinian” refer to Palestinian citizens of Israel. The term “Arab,” commonly used by Israeli Jews to describe Israeli-Palestinians, is employed only to mirror its usage in the survey under discussion.]
Smooha’s 2015 survey was sponsored by Givat Haviva, an Arab-Jewish coexistence NGO. It was released last week, though the full survey questions and results had not been published as of last week. (This report relies on the Hebrew summary provided to MintPress by Smooha.)
Smooha, who is a Mizrahi Jew of Iraqi origin, has a decided agenda in his polling. His results consistently buttress a narrative of Israeli-Palestinians as good obedient citizens “playing by the rules.” They are trustworthy members of Israeli society and do not threaten the prevailing Zionist narrative. Invite them to dinner and they won’t break the china.
This is a standard liberal Zionist narrative which seeks to portray “Arabs” as acceptable citizens who should be tolerated, if not necessarily embraced by the Jewish majority. It is a narrative which must tone down extremism, rejectionism, and any radical analysis of the status of the Palestinian minority in Israeli society. Smooha’s rhetoric reeks of moderation. The introduction to the survey explains:
“Contrary to widely held opinion, the representative surveys of the Jewish and Arab communities which Prof. Smooha prepares, show that their respective views are not becoming more extreme. Within the Arab community there has been a process of politicization and empowerment leading to a sharpening of positions, and only to a certain degree to more radicalization, a tendency which ended in 2013. The halt in such a process continued despite the alienating impact of Operation Protective Edge and the 2015 elections.
Surveys carried out over a longer time-frame indicate a stability, and to a certain degree even moderation of the views of the Jewish community toward the Arab minority. … This stability has continued despite the drift of the Jewish population toward religion and the right.”
Passages like this have the effect of causing one to question whether Smooha is looking at the same society the rest of us are. Smooha admits a radicalization among Israeli Jews, yet he also declares that this has not caused a deterioration in relations with “Arabs” nor an increase in hostile views toward them.
Even if we remove events of the past two months from consideration, it’s clear to most observers that the views of Jews toward Arabs have not remained stable. They have grown far more violent. The willingness, and even eagerness displayed by Israeli leaders to incite the murder of Palestinian protesters seems clear evidence of this.
Prof. Smooha’s view is reminiscent of Candide’s Dr. Pangloss: “Everything for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” While optimism is an admirable quality, especially in the face of despair, it does no service to those who wish to see things as they really are in relations between Jews and Palestinians.
Polling for this survey was conducted between May and July — well before the current round of violence and bloodshed that left 90 Palestinians and 19 Israelis dead. Though Smooha might argue that conducting the poll during the uprising might skew results toward a more extreme result, it seems equally debatable that Israel’s Palestinian minority now holds the moderate views he proclaims based on these out-of-date outcomes.
Smooha and Israeli media misconstrue level of support for Daesh
The Jerusalem Post’s headline for its article on Prof. Smooha’s poll results was “17% of Israeli Arabs support ISIS, expert says.” Smooha writes that 82 percent agreed with the statement: ISIS is an “extremist group of which I am ashamed.” The pollster himself continues: “those who are not opposed to ISIS constitute 16.9% of Arabs.” Thus, he himself is to blame for the questionable Post headline.
Someone who says, “I am not ashamed of ISIS,” is not saying he supports it. To determine how much support there was for the terrorist group among the respondent pool the survey should’ve asked this question explicitly.
In reviewing the validity of polls, it’s extremely critical to ask questions precisely. The originally formulated question, itself worded to buttress the notion that Palestinians overwhelmingly abhor ISIS, does not legitimately reflect the interpretation offered by Smooha and the Post. The use of the term “shame” in the question is also questionable. Why use a moral category when a simple statement of support or opposition would suffice?
There are other results in the current study which actually contradict Smooha’s sunny version of Jewish-Arab coexistence. For example, he boasts that 52 percent of Jews favor permitting Arabs to live in Jewish neighborhoods. Frankly, that’s a rather anemic result. Imagine a poll in which 50 percent of American whites favor blacks living alongside them. The media would be wringing their hands wondering what went wrong with American education and our values of tolerance.
Smooha finds that 52 percent of Jews believe that the largely Palestinian (with some Jewish participation) political coalition known as the Joint List, should be permitted into the governing coalition. There are numerous ironies here. First, no Israeli cabinet has ever incorporated a Palestinian party into a ruling coalition, not even when Labor was in power. Further, this particular government, a Likud-led coalition which has largely ruled Israel since 1977 (except for a short stint in the 1990s), would never incorporate an Israeli Palestinian party into the cabinet. The chances of this happening in the foreseeable future are nil.
Only 45 percent of Jews felt that the most recent national election increased the gap between Jews and Palestinians. Only 42 percent of Jews perceived Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ominous election day warning to Jewish voters as “racist.” In that instance, he goaded Jews to vote Likud, warning that “foreigners” (i.e., the Obama administration) were paying to get Arabs to vote en masse so they would expel the Jews (i.e., Likud) from power.
There are more results which betray sentiments that should worry liberal Zionists like Smooha: Only 51 percent of Israeli Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish democratic state.” Forty-two percent accept Israel’s right to maintain a Jewish majority. This result appears counterintuitive — with 2 out of 5 seeming to accept their status as second-class citizens.
Smooha threw another loaded question into the survey which brought him a result that would make a liberal Zionist proud. Participants were asked: “When you see the disquiet and instability in today’s Arab world since the beginning of the Arab Spring, do you feel it’s good to live in Israel?”
Instead of asking more subtle, probing questions about Israeli Palestinian attitudes toward the values and results of the Arab Spring, Smooha focuses on the negative aspects of the phenomenon and then asks if respondents are happy living in the presumably quieter, more stable Israel. Essentially, the pollster has asked a lead question and obtained the desired result.
In questioning Israeli Jews, the poll also asked leading questions or questions which posed a fairytale version of Israel that doesn’t exist. Three-quarters of Jews recognized the right of “Arabs” to live “as a minority” in an Israel in which they enjoyed “full citizenship rights,” while 70 percent accept this minority as “full members” of Israeli society. In fact, Palestinians do not enjoy full citizenship rights and are not equal members of society. So Smooha is conjuring a society that exists on paper in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, but nowhere else.
Why give credit to Jews for holding enlightened views on integrating Palestinians into Israeli society, when that society has done so little to achieve this vision?
Study documents Israeli apartheid system in spite of itself
Despite these weaknesses, the Smooha survey contains useful data that documents, sometimes in spite of itself, the apartheid system under which the non-Jewish minority lives.
For instance, 67 percent of Jews believe Israel should be first and foremost a “Jewish state” and only secondarily a “democratic state.” And 67 percent endorse a proposed “Jewish nationality law” ensuring that democracy may not “damage” the Jewish nature of the state.
The Palestinian respondents to Smooha’s survey also appeared to contradict the quiescent portrait he painted of them: 55 percent believe that Israeli Jews are “foreign settlers who have not integrated into the region and whose fate is to abandon it [Israel], whereupon it will revert to the Palestinians.” Sixty-two percent of Jews endorse the view that Palestinians are Arabs who “settled on land that belongs to the Jewish people,” and 54 percent of Jews do not believe in the Nakba, i.e., that Palestinian inhabitants became refugees and their villages were destroyed.
Of the Palestinians polled, 63 percent viewed their self-identity as partially or fully Palestinian (36 percent viewed their self-identity as “Arab”). Sixty-six percent of Jews believed that any Arab who defined him or herself as “Palestinian” could not be “loyal to Israel and its laws.” According to the poll, the former defines Palestinian identity of any sort as being illegitimate and “subversive” to Israel.
While 60 percent of Palestinians agree that their communal organizations and village councils represent them faithfully and legitimately, including the Islamic Movement, which was banned by the Israeli government, only 35 percent of Jews accepted this perspective. Nearly 40 percent of Palestinians expressed varying levels of support for the Islamic Movement, which played a key role in calling Palestinians to defend the Haram al-Sharif (the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount), after the Israeli government restricted Muslim access to it. This in turn led to the recent violent uprising described above.
An even 80 percent of Jews have no faith in the Palestinian political leadership in Israel’s Knesset, and 30 percent believe the Joint List should be banned from political participation.
Thirty-two percent of Palestinians support a boycott of Knesset elections, and 19 percent would even support the use of violence to resist the oppression they face in Israeli society. And 54 percent would approve of a domestic Intifada, or popular uprising, if their living conditions and rights do not improve significantly. While 67 percent of Palestinians believe they are treated as second-class citizens or enemies of the state, only 29 percent of Jews see the former’s status in the same way.
From reading the results of this study, Israel has been remarkably blessed with a minority which resents, but does not rebel against its second-class status. Palestinians have shown maturity and patience, hoping and working for change. Yet this patience is not infinite. In fact, Israel makes a grave mistake by assuming that “justice deferred” is an acceptable long-term outcome for Palestinians. Palestinians will never accept that justice will ultimately and forever be denied them, which appears to be an unspoken goal of the Jewish majority.