Israel and its Arab citizens

Commentary: A survey shows a significant change this year in the way Arab citizens in Israel identify themselves. According to the findings, Israel's minorities define themselves mainly as Israeli, and half of them identify themselves as Arab-Israeli 

A mosque is seen in the city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Israel. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad

A topic rarely dealt with in the press is the situation between Jewish and Arab (Christian and Muslim) Israeli citizens. On April 26, 2020, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics released official data on the Israeli population: 6.8 million Jews (74%), 1.93 million Arabs (21%) and 454,000 non-Arab Christians or followers of other faiths (5%). According to the most recent data (2018), the fertility rate is slightly higher in the Arab minority. 

According to preliminary data from the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), updated to April 21, 2020 and regarding the compilation of the next Pluralism Index 2020, this year there has been a significant change in the way Arab citizens in Israel identify themselves.

According to the survey, conducted by Tel Aviv University, Israel's minorities (26%) define themselves mainly as Israeli and half of them (51%) identify themselves as Arab-Israeli.

The share of non-Jews who define themselves mainly as Palestinian is around 7%, down from 18% of last year.

Furthermore, there has been a considerable increase in the number of Arabs who call themselves Israeli – up from 5% in 2019 to 23% this year.

This shows a significant change in the State identification of Israeli Arabs at the end of an election year (election of April 9, 2019), in which the issue of Israeli Arabs' participation in the political arena and the social fabric of the State was discussed.

Another question of the survey asked respondents to assess how much they agreed with the statement: "I feel like a true Israeli".

The majority of Arabs (Christians and Muslims) replied they fully agreed (65%) or in some way agreed (33%) with the identification of Israeli citizens.

Conversely, the majority of Muslim Arabs who feels Israeli stands at 61%, while almost one in five Muslim Arabs (18%) say the opposite.

The President of the Jewish People's Policy Institute, Avinoam Bar-Yosef, has not talked about the impact of the previous election and has instead estimated that the results of the survey are due to the work carried out by Israeli Arabs in the medical field, especially during the fight against the challenge posed by the COVID-19 crisis, which has deepened the sense of collaboration between the two communities.

Exactly a year before, on March 28, 2019, a survey published by the Israeli webzine Sicha Mekomit found that the majority of Israeli citizens thought that positive relations existed between the Jewish and Arab populations of the country.

53% of the Jews interviewed said that the daily relations between Jews and Arabs were largely positive, with one third reporting negative relations based on personal experiences. Only 13% said they had not enough contacts with the Arab population to reply.

About 76% of the Arabs interviewed stated that, in their daily life, the relations between Jews and Arabs were largely positive. Only 6% underlined they had not enough contacts with the other population group to reply.

A survey prior to the above-mentioned Parliamentary elections of April 9, 2019, conducted by Dahlia Scheindlin and David Reis, revealed that most Jews and Arabs believe that cooperation between the two populations can advance various objectives, including environmental protection, workers' rights and women's rights.

In all the issues addressed, 55-58% of respondents said that Jewish-Arab cooperation would help to tackle and solve problems and only 10-14% thought it would be harmful. 72% of Arab respondents said that cooperation would be useful, compared to 54% of Jewish respondents.

Considering the abovementioned elections, almost half of the Arabs interviewed (47%) said they would be willing to vote for a Jewish party if their views were met, significantly more than the 15% of Arab voters who supported non-Arab parties in the 2015 election.

Only 4% of the Jews interviewed, however, did express their willingness to vote for an Arab party. Around 88% of Jews rejected the idea.

Although Arab parties have never been part of a coalition government, 87% of Arab respondents said they would somehow favour an Arab party joining the government. Only 4% of Arabs rejected that possibility. Among the Jews interviewed, however, only 35% said that an Arab party joining the government would be acceptable to some extent.

When Arab respondents were asked whether they recognized a Jewish people alongside the Palestinian people, 94% of Arabs responded in the affirmative and only 6% said there was only a Palestinian people.

Among the Jews interviewed, 52% acknowledged the existence of a Palestinian people while 48% said there was only a Jewish people.

The survey also asked Arab respondents how they defined themselves. Almost half (46%) called themselves Arab-Israeli; 22% said they were Arab; 19% said they were Palestinian-Israeli and 14% called themselves Palestinian only. 

An interesting article by Umberto De Giovannangeli published on the issue No. 9/2018 of "Limes" which, however, is very topical, shows us a survey published by the Israeli section of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, concerning the program for Jewish-Arab cooperation at the Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University, and by Keevoon, a research, strategy and communication company (declared margin of error: 2.25%).

"The number of people who agreed to respond positively to questions about State institutions is remarkably high and reflects a general aspiration to be integrated into Israeli society," explained Itamar Radai, academic Director of the Adenauer program and researcher at the Dayan Center. At the same time, perceived discrimination was mentioned by respondents as a major cause of concern, with 47% saying they feel "generally treated unequally" as Arab citizens. The majority of respondents also denounced an unequal distribution of State's fiscal resources. According to Michael Borchard, Director of the Israeli office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, one of the most significant results of the survey is the answer given to the question: "Which word describes you best?". The majority (28%) replied Arab-Israeli; 11% replied simply Israeli and 13% called themselves Arab citizens of Israel. 2% responded Israeli Muslim. Only 15% called themselves simply Palestinian, while 4% called themselves Palestinian in Israel; 3% called themselves Palestinian citizens in Israel and 2% Israeli Palestinian. 8% of respondents preferred to identify themselves simply as Muslim.

In other words, according to the survey, 56% of Arab citizens define themselves in one way or another as Israeli, while 24% as Palestinian. Only 23% avoid any reference to Israel, while 9% somehow combine the word Palestinian with the word Israeli or the expression "in Israel". "The basic fact", says Borchard, "is that there is more sense of identification with Israel than with a possible Palestinian State: Arabs want to be recognized in their specific identity, but they have no problem being associated to Israel". The survey also found that Israeli Arab citizens are more worried about the economy, crime and internal equality than about the Palestinian issue.

The data obtained from De Giovannangeli's article and previous Israeli surveys lead us to believe that the traditional secularism of Palestinian Arab citizens is clearly shown. Therefore, the anti-Israeli complexity of the Middle East countries – including, "paradoxically", many allies of the United States, an old friend of Israel - may be less felt by Arab-Israeli citizens the more their economic situation may improve.

Momi Dahan, a member of the Public Policy faculty at the Hebrew University, told us on May 8, 2018 that the low per capita income of Arab citizens in Israel corresponds to the high poverty rate of Arab families - which is about three times that of Jewish families - but "we cannot hold the Arabs responsible for Israel's leading position in the ranking of inequality in disposable income".

As a result, the higher the level of well-being of a country's population, the fewer the reasons for friction on which third parties blow to fuel the fire of discord.

 

Professor Valori is President of the International World Group