Jerusalem — It’s a tale of two countries, and a test of one democracy.
Israel’s Arab citizens have never been more physically integrated into mainstream society than they are today. Many study and teach at the country’s leading universities, serve as doctors and nurses at most Israeli hospitals and shop in the same shopping districts as their Jewish counterparts do.
Yet a major new survey by the Israel Democracy Institute reveals that physical integration, when it exists, does not mean that Arabs, who comprise 20 percent of the Israeli population, feel included, accepted or wanted.
The survey reveals this discrepancy in a number of spheres.
While 69 percent of Jews and 74 percent of Arabs surveyed said they have shared a workplace — and of these, 89 percent of Jews and 95 percent of Arabs described their working relations as “good or very good” — 41 percent of Jews said Arabs should only be permitted to purchase land in Arab neighborhoods, while 25 percent said they should not be allowed to purchase land anywhere in Israel.
Sixty-seven percent of Jews think Israel acts in a democratic way toward its Arab citizens, but only 45 percent of Arabs concur.
Nearly 59 percent of Jews avoid Arab residential neighborhoods while 16 percent of Arabs avoid Jewish residential neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, 68 percent of Jews said it isn’t possible to feel part of Palestinian society and also be a loyal citizen of Israel. On the flip side, 54 percent of Arabs said they feel part of Israeli society.
Tamar Hermann, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and lead author of the survey, said the findings are consistent with a smaller survey taken last year.
“The more people are on the political right, the more they embrace this position. And the more religious people are, the more they are open to the idea of unequal civil rights.”
“The idea was to explore minority-majority relations in Israel, and I’m struck by the strength of certain beliefs and deeply inculcated they are in public opinion.”
Hermann said that most of the Israeli Jews surveyed feel they should have more rights than non-Jewish citizens.
“This correlates with political opinions,” Hermann said. “The more people are on the political right, the more they embrace this position. And the more religious people are, the more they are open to the idea of unequal civil rights.”
But Jewish respondents were “very open” to granting the Arab minority more financial support from the government.
“Money is not the problem, and we found quite good relations on the people-to-people level, Hermann said. But just because someone may be willing to work with Arabs in their workplace doesn’t mean they want Arabs to have a foothold in the decision-making process. That’s cognitive dissonance,” Hermann said.
The survey took place during the winter of 2017, and questioned a representative sample of 500 Israeli Jews and 500 Israeli Arabs. Its publication comes at a time when Birthright Israel is reassessing its visits with Arab citizens of Israel, and following a year of intermittent Arab violence against Israelis, some of it spearheaded by Arabs within Israel.
“Just because someone may be willing to work with Arabs in their workplace doesn’t mean they want Arabs to have a foothold in the decision-making process. That’s cognitive dissonance.”
Thabet Abu Rass, the Arab co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization that promotes coexistence and equality among Arab and Jewish Israelis, said both he and Amnon Sulitzeanu, the fund’s Jewish co-director, found the IDI study spot-on.
“There is a duality within Israeli politics,” Abu Rass said. “We can see that the government is spending an unprecedented amount of money over a five-year period for economic development in the Arab sector.”
Abu Rass attributed this windfall to the fact that within a few years half of the students in the Israeli education system will be either Arabs or charedi Jews.
“If they’re not working, it will hurt the Israeli economy. Who will pay for our pensions?”
Furthermore, more Arab students are attending university, and there are many more job opportunities than a decade ago, Abu Rass said.
“Ten years ago, only 16 percent of our women were working. Today that number is 33 percent. Today 37 percent of Israeli pharmacists and 11 percent of all Israeli physicians are Arabs, That figure is 22 percent at Rambam Hospital in Haifa,” he noted.
While Arabs are benefiting economically, they continue to feel marginalized, as if their problems belong to them alone, he said.
“There is a real problem of [Arab-on-Arab] violence in our communities, but the police have been very slow to act. They don’t allot the same resources that are allotted to the Jewish sector.”
At the same time, he said, “some” Israeli leaders, from the prime minister on down, “are trying to delegitimize the Arab voice at a time when the overwhelming majority of Arab citizens would like to be part of the Israeli decision-making process.”
Arabs in Israel, Abu Rass noted, are moving away from “reactionary politics” and toward a “politics of engagement.”
“This is why 66 percent of Arabs are in favor of being part of Israel’s governing coalition, just like charedi Jews.”
After decades of sitting out elections, Arab citizens “want to engage. They want equal services and to be part of Israeli society.”
Unlike Israel’s outspoken, often strident Arab lawmakers, the majority of Arab Israelis “are talking less about the Palestinian conflict and the Islamic world and more about integration,” Abu Rass said.
Amnon Sulitzeanu, Abu Rass’s co-director, said IDI’s survey confirms what he has encountered on the ground.
“The majority of the Arab citizens of Israel want to be part of Israeli society and have a seat around the table when it comes to policymaking. They identify themselves as Israelis and at the same time want to keep their Palestinian identity. They don’t see a contradiction.”
Sulitzeanu cautioned against assuming that the government’s newfound largess toward the Arab sector signals a change in social policy.
“It goes against the conventional wisdom that when people are better off financially they are less interested in their rights and identity and that they integrate more easily,” he said.
In reality, he said, “those who are better off have even more time and energy to think about existential questions about their place in society, their rights, their heritage.”
Until the Israeli government ends its “systematic marginalization” of Israel’s Arab citizens “through legislation, rhetoric and the failure to combat racism, neither Arabs in Israel or the country itself will be able to maximize their potential,” Sulitzeanu said.