Friday, March 11, 2016

New Study Finds Racism Common Among Israelis

As Americans, we are endlessly reminded by our leading politicians about the importance of the special relationship with Israel--the only Liberal Democracy in the Middle East (TM). Judging from the rhetoric alone, it's almost like we think of Israel as the 51st state. Criticizing the Israeli government is almost unheard of, and even expressing a desire to be neutral draws immediate condemnation, as Donald Trump learned in last night's Republican debate.

Many harsh realities get obscured by this consistently positive narrative on Israel. I suspect most Americans would be shocked to learn that settlement building is effectively Israel's 21st century version of Manifest Destiny. Others would probably be surprised to discover that Palestine isn't actually its own independent state right now.

But what might be most shocking of all to an American audience, is how perfectly common and acceptable it is in Israel to be racist against Arabs. This election cycle, Donald Trump's crude rhetoric on Mexicans and Muslims has been denounced by many as a betrayal of American values. But if Trump were an Israeli politician, he wouldn't even really be on the fringe of mainstream opinion. A bold claim perhaps, but a new opinion survey on the Israeli public bears it out.

Conducted by Pew Research, this new poll on Israeli and Palestinian attitudes has many interesting findings. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • A plurality (48%) of Israeli Jews agree with Arabs being expelled from Israel
  • 97% of Israeli Jews would be uncomfortable with their child marrying a Muslim. (Other religious groups in Israel had similarly widespread discomfort about having a child marry someone of another background.)
  • A plurality (42%) of Israeli Jews also agree that the settlement building policy helps Israel's security
  • 79% of Israeli Jews believe they should receive preferential treatment in Israel, relative to other groups
  • 64% of Israeli Arabs say that Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy
Of course, to grasp how extreme this really is, it's useful for American readers to replace Jews and Arabs with whites and blacks.

For instance, imagine if Donald Trump suggested that the US needed to expel all black people in the country to ensure the security of the white people. Then imagine around half of all white people in America agreed with that idea. To find that level of widespread hatred in the US, you would probably have to go back to at least the 1950s or 1960s, and probably a lot further. But in Israel, an analogous view is prevalent today.

And while we can't possibly excuse or justify this result, it's easy to see how Israel got to this point. Israel has effectively been militarily occupying a neighboring people for nearly 50 years. This breeds resentment among the occupied Palestinians. And then when uprisings inevitably occur, it affects the domestic Israeli population directly. The whole situation is effectively a breeding ground for escalating hostilities and hatred on both sides.

In many ways, it's much like the US War on Terror, which has coincided with a rise in Islamophobia over the past 15 years. US prejudices against Islam have emerged in spite of the fact that there have only been three major terrorist attacks on US soil in that timeframe by people calling themselves Muslims. In this light, it may not be that surprising that Israeli public opinion is what it is. But it does make an even more compelling case for pursuing a peaceful solution as soon as possible, before things get any worse.

And on that note, we'll refer you to the full write-up on this research from Mondoweiss.

1 comment:

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