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Large majority of Israeli Arabs identify as Israelis, survey finds

Eetta Prince-Gibson
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Published: 7 May 2020

Last updated: 4 March 2024

Some 74% say they are Arab Israeli or Israeli, with only 7% identifying as Palestinians. Survey also finds 75% of Israeli Jews say they are secular or non-Orthodox. Eetta Prince-Gibson reports

A LARGE MAJORITY of Israeli Arabs identify themselves as Israeli or Arab Israeli - 51 percent “Arab Israeli” and 23 per cent “Israeli”. The next largest category is “Arab”, at 15 per cent.

This is one of the more surprising findings of this year’s Pluralism Index survey published by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), an independent policy planning think tank in Jerusalem.

The current study, released on April 30, is the sixth annual Pluralism Index, which is part of the JPPI's broader "Pluralism Project." The authors say it provides "snapshot that strikes a balance between the desires and attitudes of different groups in Israeli society" as well as an assessment of evolving trends.

In this context, the survey found that only seven percent say that "Palestinian" is their primary identity, compared to 27 percent last year. And an overwhelming 91 percent of non-Jews do not think that to be a "real Israeli" you must be Jewish.

This response seems contrary to common wisdom, and the authors provide two hypotheses to explain it, one substantive and the other technical.

Substantively, they note that this finding is consistent with the large Arab voter turnout in the March elections, which reflects their increased willingness to participate in the national political sphere. Technically, they also point to the possibility of sampling discrepancies or flaws in the questionnaire structure.

Among the survey’s other main findings, 75 percent of Israeli Jews define themselves as secular, secular traditional, or liberal religious; only 14 percent define themselves as National Haredi or Haredi, and the remaining 11 percent define themselves as religious.

Despite the small proportion of Haredim, relations between the ultra-Orthodox and all other Jewish sectors are becoming increasingly fraught, and disapproval of the Chief Rabbinate is growing.

Of non-Jews in Israel, 68 percent of define themselves as Muslim, 16 percent as Druze, and 11 percent as Christian. Among all of these, 46 percent define themselves as religious or very religious, and 53 percent as not at all religious or a little religious.

A majority of Jews and non-Jews say they are comfortable living in Israel; increasing numbers of both Jews and non-Jews feel like "real Israelis."  But there are rifts between Jews and Arabs with regard to other attitudes.

Attitudes towards the Ultra-Orthodox

The Index regularly examines the attitudes of non-Haredi Israelis towards Haredi Israelis, and in every survey the Haredim consistently place at the bottom of the "contribution to the state" scale, out of 17 different groups.

This year is no exception, and Haredim are perceived, by both Jews as non-Jews, as the group that contributes the least to the State of Israel.  In addition, half of the secular population feels that attitudes toward Haredim – that is, in this survey, the way in which Israeli society treats the Haredim, including stipends to yeshivot, religious arrangements in public space, and so forth - are too positive.

In contrast, half of the traditionalist and religiously observant (but non-Haredi) respondents think that attitudes toward Haredim are positive or not positive enough.

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At the outset, the authors state that, since the survey was conducted in late-March through early April, it was not highly influenced by the coronavirus pandemic. Yet at the same time they note that the conspicuousness of the Haredi population and the poor way it coped with the government-issued directives may have had an impact, on both the internal Haredi system (such as leadership and values,) as well as on the attitudes of other Israelis towards the Haredim.

Religion and State

Questions of religion and state, including budget allocations or Haredi Torah studies, laws that limit public transport on Shabbat/holidays and that regulate kashrut, and the authority granted to the Chief Rabbinate over marriage and burial, are always contentious.

Many are displeased with the Chief Rabbinate. Only 14 per cent of Israeli Jews feel that it is necessary and that it functions properly.  The rest feel the Chief Rabbinate should be improved, curtailed, or dissolved entirely.

Regarding public transport on Shabbat, 56 percent of the total and 52 percent of non-car-owners feel it should operate on Shabbat (either with no restrictions, or with the exception of religious cities and neighbourhoods).

Among those who support it, there is no significant difference between car owners and others.  That is, most Israelis take principled stands on the issue of public transport on Shabbat rather than stands rooted in their life circumstances.

The survey also found a majority of religiously observant or Haredi Jews accept the Chief Rabbinate’s stance that a Jew is someone born to a Jewish mother or has undergone Orthodox conversion.

Among other Jews, there is a willingness to accept other, non-Orthodox, conversion channels; and secular Jews are willing to accept patrilineal descent. It should be noted, however, that only a small minority of Israeli Jews (7 per cent) are prepared to accept self-definition as a sufficient criterion for Jewish identity.

Jews and non-Jews

Eighty-nine percent of Israeli Jews and 85 percent of Israeli non-Jews say they are comfortable living in Israel.  Furthermore, 55 percent of non-Jewish Israelis say they feel like a “real Israeli” either very much or a fair amount.

However, at the same time, 36 percent of non-Jews believe that a majority of Israeli Jews are political extremists and 19 per cent believe that many are. Notably, in 2018, only 19 percent believed that a majority of Jews are extremists.

The authors also ask whether they respondents believe that a Jewish temple ever stood on the Temple Mount. They note that in the eyes of Jewish respondents, the Temple is a historical fact. However, half of non-Jewish Israelis, and 59 percent of Muslim Israelis, believe that no Jewish temple ever stood on the Temple Mount. Another third say they don’t know.

Among Christian and Druze survey respondents (they were few, meaning that the possibility of a sampling problem exists), half say they don’t know, while a quarter explicitly deny that there was ever a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount.

The authors of the study contend these answers could point to "stumbling blocks that hamper the minority's complete integration in Jewish-majority society" because denial of the Jewish historical claim to the Temple Mount " can be understood only as an attempt to undercut the historical link between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.”

Photo: Jewish Israelis and Palestinians at a coexistence meeting in the West Bank in 2015 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

About the author

Eetta Prince-Gibson

Eetta Prince-Gibson, who lives in Jerusalem, was previously Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report, is the Israel Editor for Moment Magazine and a regular contributor to Haaretz, The Forward, PRI, and other Israeli and international publications.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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