Also in this Briefing
In its latest poll, the Israel Democracy Institute found that 62 per cent of Israelis support the government encouraging the country’s more than one million Arab citizens to emigrate. The Democracy Index survey, published on 9 May, contrasts with another recent poll, by the Geocartography Institute, which found that 40 per cent of Israelis favoured the emigration of Arab citizens.
The difference is most likely explained by the phrasing of the question. Recent polls have shown that, while on average 40 per cent of Israelis want Arab citizens forced to leave the country, that figure rises close to 60 per cent when respondents are asked, more ambiguously, if they want the Arab population “encouraged” to emigrate.
The Democracy Index findings follow the general trend of recent opinion polls showing that the number of Israelis who favour the emigration of Arab citizens is steadily on the rise. A similar survey by the Democracy Institute in 2003 showed that slightly fewer Israelis (57 per cent) believed Arab citizens should be encouraged to emigrate.
(In fact support for the emigration of Arab citizens would almost certainly be significantly higher in the two Democracy Index polls if the surveys reflected only the views of Israeli Jews. The polls were conducted among a representative sample of Israelis – that is, one in five of the respondents was an Arab citizen. It can probably be safely assumed that most Arabs surveyed did not support their own emigration.)
A survey in 2002 by the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University revealed that 31 per cent of Israelis favoured the “transfer” of Arab citizens (the term Israelis prefer over the more explicit “expulsion” or “ethnic cleansing”). In 1991 the figure stood at 24 per cent.
Other findings of the 2006 Democracy Index were that only 14 per cent of Israelis felt relations between Jewish and Arab citizens were good, while 29 per cent believed that nationally important decisions should only be taken with a Jewish majority.
Responding to the poll, Arab Member of Knesset Taleb al-Sanaa called on Zionism to “conduct a profound self-examination and check where it failed”.
Israelis may not need to look too far. The day before the survey was published, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a speech in the Knesset to mark Herzl Day, commemorating Theodor Herzl’s key role in establishing the Zionist movement in Europe.
Olmert told his audience: “We must ensure that there will be a proven Jewish majority in the State of Israel, otherwise the term Jewish state becomes empty of meaning. The obligation of the national leadership is to be responsible to the vision of Herzl and to ensure a Jewish majority in the State.”
Olmert and members of his ruling Kadima party have regularly expressed similar views to justify their main policy initiative, the “convergence plan”, which aims to separate Israel’s Jewish population from the Palestinians by consolidating Israel’s illegal settlement blocs in the West Bank and annexing the land to Israel. Olmert recently called implementation of this policy “Zionism’s lifeline”.
At the same time widespread fears have been expressed by politicians of the left and right about the demographic growth of Israel’s Arab population. Census results released to coincide with Israel’s Independence Day on 3 May showed that the country’s population had for the first time passed the 7 million mark.
Of that number, the Central Bureau of Statistics recorded 5.6 million (or 76 per cent) as Jews and 1.39 (or 20 per cent) as Arabs – this latter figure includes about 250,000 Palestinians in east Jerusalem who were officially annexed to Israel in 1980 but who lack Israeli citizenship. The rest (4 per cent), classified as “other”, are mainly new immigrants, usually from the former Soviet Union, who arrived with a Jewish spouse or parent under the Law of Return but fail to meet the criteria laid down by the Orthodox rabbinate, who determine personal status.
The Arab proportion of Israel’s population is at its highest level since the state was founded in 1948. Then, following a war in which some 750,000 Palestinians (or 80 per cent of the native population) were forced or terrorised from their homes, the percentage of Israeli citizens who were Palestinian stood at just 13.5 per cent. At least 3 million Jewish immigrants brought to Israel over the next half century failed to prevent the Arab population’s total growth outstripping that of the Jewish population.
That has violated a demographic principle laid down by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, that the number of Arab citizens should never exceed 15 per cent of the total population.
In recent years government ministers, army generals and prominent intellectuals such as Benny Morris have been bemoaning the failure of Israel’s founding fathers to expell all of the region’s Palestinians during the 1948 war.
I’lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel is a non-profit organization based in Nazareth. It was founded in 2000, by a group of Arab journalists and academics. As the only Arab Palestinian media organization in Israel, I’lam is deeply committed to the democratization of media policies, media practices, and the media landscape in Israel.