Q&A: Why only 51 percent of Israelis support equal rights for Arab minority
A survey released this week showed stark views of the country's Arab minority, whose growing presence is challenging Israel's claim to being 'Jewish and democratic.'
(Page 2 of 2)
"This is their biggest dilemma," says Yoav Stern of the Peres Institute for Peace in Jaffa. "They are trying to avoid the contradiction between them being part of the Palestinian people, and their Israeli citizenship."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In a 2009 Haifa University survey, 24 percent of Israeli Arabs said they would prefer to live in a Palestinian state and 14 percent supported the use of violence as a means of protest. But the vast majority remain loyal to Israel.
"We are fighting for our rights within the law," says Jacky Khouri, a news director at the Arabic radio station A-Shams. "Our struggle is democratic and legitimate, and we are not in any way part of a violent struggle, either within the Palestinian Authority or any armed group in the Arab world like Hezbollah."
How do Israeli Jews view them?
According to the Haifa University survey, some 79 percent of Israeli Jews support Arab citizens receiving full civil rights. About 3 in 5 support a government program to help close the gap between Arabs and Jews.
But only 1 in 3 are willing to consider changing Israel's symbols to give expression to Arabs. Many view them with suspicion. Some 73 percent agreed that a citizen who considers himself a "Palestinian Arab in Israel" can't be loyal to the state.
There are a growing number of right-wing Israeli politicians who openly question the loyalty of Arabs to the state. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's success in the 2009 elections has largely been attributed to a campaign promise to require a loyalty oath for Arab citizens.
The bill has so far failed. But on Oct. 10, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government voted to amend the country's citizenship law to require any prospective citizens who are not Jewish to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. While the measure, which still needs to be approved by parliament, does not affect Arabs who are already citizens, they see it as fresh evidence that there is a conflict between Israel's dual identity as Jewish and democratic.
But after Jews endured millenniums of persecution before finally establishing a state of their own, some Israelis do value their state's Jewishness more than its democratic character.
"Most Jews continue to see Palestinian identity and ties as subversive and to prefer the Jewishness of the state over its democracy," wrote Haifa University political science professor Sammy Smooha in an overview of the 2009 survey. On the other hand, "[the] Jewish majority realizes that in its midst lives an Arab minority permanently, and it has to come to terms with [it]."
Why is their status increasingly urgent?
Higher birthrates and rising demands for Arab autonomy challenge Israel's ability to be both Jewish and democratic. Professor Smooha's study found that 48 percent of Arab citizens are unhappy with their lives in Israel, compared with 35 percent in 2003. While nearly two-thirds believed in 2003 that Israel's democracy empowered them as well as Jews, last year only half agreed with the idea. Voting turnout dropped to 53 percent in 2009 from 75 percent in 1999.
Rekhess, who warned of the potential for violence shortly before the second intifada started in 2000, said there is ample potential for another flare-up. "The ground is burning. All you need is something to ignite it."