The deterioration in Jewish-Arab relations in Israel is increasing, according to a survey which has been conducted by Prof. Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa for more than 40 years. More than half of Israel’s Arab citizens in 2017 did not accept that Israel be a state with a Jewish majority and do not recognize it as a Jewish and democratic state, a significant decline compared to 2015.
Among the Jews there was a decline in the willingness to live near an Arab neighbor, to allow their children to attend school together with Arab students, or to even visit an Arab community.
Still, most Israeli Arabs think Israel is a good country to live in and most Jews are willing to take steps to increase equality as long as they do not harm Israel’s Jewish character.
“There has been a sharp escalation in the past two years in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, but this aggravation does not suggest a complete breakup,” said Prof. Smooha, stresing that “most Jews and most Arabs in Israel still believe in a common society.”
Prof. Sammy Smooha, 77, who made Aliyah from Baghdad, Iraq, is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Haifa and a recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize. He began his surveys of the annual index of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel in 1976. The current survey, conducted in May-August 2017, involved 700 Arabs and 700 Jews who constitute a representative sample of the adult population of each group.
The data for the 2017 Index indicate that there has been a deterioration in the legitimacy of the Jews and the Jewish State in the eyes of the Arabs and the legitimacy of the Arabs as citizens in the eyes of the Jews.
In 2015, 65.8% of the Arabs recognized Israel’s right to exist, compared with 58.7% in 2017.
Arabs’ recognition of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state decreased from 53.6% to 49.1% in those two years.
Israeli Arabs’ recognition that it Israel is rightfully a state that preserves a Jewish majority (i.e. a Zionist state) has decreased from 42.7% to 36.2%.
The steepest decline took place in the rate of Arabs’ acceptance of the Jewish character of the state: from 60.3% who in 2015 agreed that Israel is a state with a Jewish majority to 44.6% in 2017; from 39.0% to 25.2% recognizing the legitimacy of the Law of Return; from 63.4% to 49.7%, agreeing that Hebrew should be the predominant language; from 56.2% to 45.6% accepting a unique Hebrew-Israeli culture; and from 60.7% to 46.0% on accepting Saturday as the day of rest.
However, Prof. Smooha said, 61.9% of the Arabs in 2017 (64.0% in 2015) think Israel is a good place to live, and 60.0% (58.8% in 2015) prefer to live in the State of Israel than in any other country in the world.
In addition, 77.4% (an increase from 72.2% in 2015) are not willing to move to a Palestinian state should it be established.
And 55.8% (down from 64.2%) also feel that “when they see the unrest and instability in the Arab world since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011, they feel good about living in Israel.”
Prof. Smooha found a parallel decline among Israeli Jews regarding the legitimacy of the Arab minority, with the percentage of Jews who recognize the Arabs’ right to live in the state as a minority with full civil rights has declined from 79.7% in 2015 to 73.8% in 2017.
Nevertheless, despite this deterioration in Jewish attitudes, 60.7% of Israeli Jews in 2017 agreed with the government’s decision to implement a large-scale five-year plan of as much as $4.3 billion in developing the Arab sector.