February 4, 2019

Public Opinion Mini-Poll on Jewish Attitudes toward the Arab ‘Other’: Findings & Insights

A recent CNN poll on European attitudes toward Jews has revealed anti-Semitic trends in Europe that many—including Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu—have found concerning and publicly condemned. As a follow-up to the poll and in an effort to generate more complex public discourse on societal attitudes toward ‘the other’ in Israel as well, Israel’s Channel 10 commissioned a parallel, though much smaller-scale, poll addressing Israeli Jews’ attitudes toward Arab citizens. Published on December 9, 2018 and aired on the current affairs program London et Kirschenbaum, the results indicated considerable degrees of intolerance toward Arab citizens among respondents, particularly those under age 30 and those from religious communities, and was the subject of considerable public reflection and debate.

The poll conducted by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute and included 500 Jewish participants across the religious spectrum, with education levels ranging from below high school diploma to graduate degrees. Adapting the CNN poll to the Israeli context, it asked respondents to rate their degree of comfort with Arab citizens in both the public and private spheres (full results in Hebrew).

Findings showed that a sizable amount of respondents felt uncomfortable with Arab citizens in certain professions: 40% were at least “somewhat disturbed” by the relatively high rates of Arab nurses and physicians in Israel’s hospitals (Arabs comprise over 12% of government healthcare professionals), 37% were at least “somewhat disturbed” that roughly half of Israel’s pharmacists are Arab, and 27% were disturbed that Arab Justice George Karra headed the judicial panel that convicted former president Moshe Katsav. A much lower 15% were disturbed by the participation of Arab players in Israel’s national football team.

When asked how they felt about hearing a conversation in Arabic in a public space, 43% stated they were “somewhat” to “very” disturbed by the phenomenon.

Respondents showed a greater degree of discomfort when asked about contact with Arab counterparts in the private sphere. In terms of living proximity, 50% objected to an Arab living in their building and the same percentage would not rent an apartment to an Arab. In terms of their Jewish children befriending Arab peers, 51% objected to their son befriending an Arab male, 53% objected to their daughter befriending an Arab female, 76% objected to their son befriending an Arab female, and 80% objected to their daughter befriending an Arab male.

Finally, when asked to rate the extent of their agreement with the statement “Most Jews are better than non-Jews because they were born Jews,” 12% believed this was very true, 11% fairly true, 25% not entirely true, and 43% not true at all.

Discomfort with or intolerance toward Arabs rose with respondents’ level of religiosity across all questions, with secular Jews reflecting the most tolerant attitudes toward their Arab counterparts comparatively. For instance, to the above question about whether “Jews are better than non-Jews,” roughly 66% of ultra-Orthodox respondents and 45% of religious respondents felt this statement was “fairly true” or “very true,” compared with 26% of traditional respondents and 23% of secular respondents who agreed. Likewise, regarding hearing Arabic conversations in a public space, roughly 67% of ultra-Orthodox respondents, 53% of religious respondents, and 47% were somewhat to very disturbed by the phenomenon, compared with 32% of secular respondents who shared the sentiment.

The outcomes of the poll echoed two additional, recent surveys on Jewish Israelis’ attitudes toward Arab citizens in certain spheres. A study published in the Israel Journal of Health Policy Research in November 2018 found that 30% of Jews (and 21% of Arabs) support separation in hospital wards, and a survey by the Levinsky College of Education, whose results were aired on Israel’s radio station Reshet Bet (Hebrew link) on December 12, 2018, found that 40% of Jewish teachers and 36% of Jewish students among its respondents objected to having Arab teachers in Jewish schools.

In interpreting the poll’s findings on Channel 10’s London et Kirschenbaum, Academic Director of the Guttman Center Prof. Tamar Hermann stated that the trends it denotes are indeed consistent with studies from previous years (for instance, A Conditional Partnership by the Guttman Center in 2017) and are not surprising. Likewise, she noted, the variables most predominantly affecting Israeli Jews’ positions toward Arabs, in this poll and others, have persistently been level of religiosity and age, i.e. the more religious and young the respondents the more likely they are to display aversion to contact with Arab citizens or intolerance toward them.

Prof. Hermann further emphasized that when it comes to public opinion on issues such as Arab citizens, territorial compromises, or the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, the youngest Jewish demographic, meaning individuals under 30, systematically shows the highest tendency toward nationalism and separatism between Jews and Arabs. This raised questions as to the causes of this phenomenon, and whether it can be attributed to general characteristics of younger generations that will eventually be outgrown, or rather to the socialization of this generation in an era of consistent, public Jewish-Arab conflict. Generally, the ongoing and often violent Jewish-Arab conflict was noted as an inarguably crucial factor, and one unique to the Israeli context.

In the case of both religious and younger respondents, exposure and education were cited as possibly significant factors in terms of cultivating attitudes toward the Arab ‘other,’ particularly the role of Israel’s public education system.

The findings of the poll attracted the attention of numerous news outlets in Israel and beyond, including The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post in the United-States.

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