Arab citizens make up a little over 20% of Israel’s population. While diverse in its own right, this sizable minority is a significant component of Israel’s diversity. The particular historic, social and economic realities of Israel’s Arab citizens raise issues related to inclusion, equality and social cohesion, but also offer important opportunity for growth and social development.
Jewish-Arab relations in Israel have known various ups and downs over the years, and to a large extent, are intertwined with and affected by the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and neighboring Arab countries. For example, during the 90s, with the Oslo Peace Process, internal relations saw what is now perceived as a “golden age,” while the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000, the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, and Israel’s military operation in Gaza Strip (“Cast Lead” - December 2008; Operation “Pillar of Defense” - 2012), heightened the tensions. In particular, the October 2000 events have had a long-lasting negative impact on the fabric of Jewish-Arab relations.
On the state level there are a number of laws and structures that promote shared society between Jews and Arabs, including within Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the recognition of Arabic as a second formal language. At the same time, there is no government definition regulating these relations and relatively little activity to promote better relations, with the exception of a few initiatives and programs within the Ministry of Education. Within civil society a wide variety of efforts to enhance better relations, coexistence and shared society have been in existence for decades, albeit with fluctuating public support depending on the political tensions.
In popular discourse on majority-minority relations in Israel, Jews often point to three major concerns: (1) Demographic concern: The higher natural growth rate of the Arab population (2.5% compared with 1.5% among the Jewish population) is considered by some to be a threat to Israel’s ability to sustain a Jewish majority over time. (2) “Re-opening of the ‘1948 Files’”: This includes the demand for the state to assume responsibility for the 1948 Palestinian Nakba (literally, the “catastrophe” of the loss of Palestine). (3) De-legitimization of the State of Israel, and/or for its Jewish nature, and demands to recognize the Arab minority’s collective identity and rights.
Arabs also list a series of concerns including (1) Erosion and questioning of their perceived belonging to the Israeli citizenry, manifested, for example in the discourse on population transfer under a future agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (promoted, among others, by Foreign Minister Lieberman). (2) Encroachments on civil rights, manifested in, for example, legislative initiatives demanding “loyalty” of Arabs as a precondition for civil rights, (3) Police violence against Arab citizens (e.g. the 13 Arabs killed by police fire in the October 2000 events) and civic violence in the form of “Price Tag” hate crimes.
These negative trends of mutual fear and suspicion are reflected in various public opinion surveys, while other surveys point to positive trends such as growing “Israelization” among Arab citizens, and enhanced economic integration and mutual acceptance between the two communities.