Thursday, April 10, 2008

Israeli Prof’s Poll Upends His Own Thesis

P. David Hornik | 4/10/2008

Prof. Sammy Smooha, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Haifa University, has published his annual Arab-Jewish Relations Index for 2007. And as usual Smooha, who has been maintaining for years that the Israeli Arabs are not undergoing radicalization, is trying to put the best possible face on the results.

Smooha is quoted as saying:

Looking at it all in perspective and in comparison to surveys conducted over the years, it is important to note that there isn’t a trend towards extremism in the attitudes of the Arab population or entrenchment among the Jewish public.

Yet, in the poll,

the percentage of those [Israeli Arabs] that deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish-Zionist state rose slightly from 62.6% last year to 64% this year, as did the percentage of Arabs who deny Israel’s right to exist (from 15% last year to 20% this year). Although the distinction between the two kinds of “right to exist” isn’t clear, the former sounds like dissolution and the latter like demolition. With Israeli Arabs holding such attitudes, it’s not surprising that the poll also found 64% of Israeli Jews saying they refuse to enter Israeli Arab towns.

Smooha, while allowing that “The index exposes the dimensions of the deep rift between Arabs and Jews,” bases his positive reading on the findings that 75% of the Arabs say Israel is a good place to live, 71% of them say they prefer it to any other country, and 58% say that Israel is democratic enough for them.

There’s indeed a hypocrisy here that has surfaced before; Israeli Arabs, while always—particularly their Knesset members—condemning Israel in public statements, also fiercely reject suggestions that in a final settlement some of their communities would become part of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli Arabs know about the PA and the Arab countries—and realize that they’re much better off with Israel’s democracy and standard of living.

The question is how much stock to put in that when at the same time a total of 84% of Israeli Arabs say Israel either shouldn’t exist as a Jewish-Zionist state or shouldn’t exist at all.

Smooha, for his part, has been insisting for years that the trends are encouraging. In 2004 he wrote in Lebanon’s Daily Star that

The Palestinization of [the Israeli Arabs’] identity, culture, and ties is moderated by their pervasive Israelization. Even their Islamization is restrained by the realization that as a Muslim minority in a Jewish state, they cannot and must not try to take over and Islamize the state.…

Public opinion surveys that I have been conducting since 1976 provide ample attitudinal evidence for these incontrovertible facts: 21.5% of the Arabs rejected Israel's right to exist in 1976, 6.8% in 1995 and 10.2% in 2003; 17.9%, 6.0% and 3.1%, respectively, supported the use of violence in order to improve their condition in Israel….

Apart from the fact that the 2007 poll shows a deterioration on both those measures and that the above quote doesn’t include the “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish-Zionist state” category, Smooha also came up with results for 2006 that were even more shocking.

That year’s poll found almost 50 percent of Israeli Arabs justifying Hizbullah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in July 2006, 90 percent viewing Israel’s bombings in Lebanon as war crimes, and no less than 48 percent justifying Hizbullah’s launching of rockets at Israel even though Hizbullah largely targeted parts of northern Israel with considerable Arab population and several of the 43 Israeli civilian casualties were Arabs.

Smooha indeed remarked:

One would expect Israeli Arabs to be more pro-Israel due to the unique situation in the last war.… the Hizbullah rockets endangered their lives and property too.… Hizbullah, a Shiite movement, is supported by a fundamentalist Shiite non-Arab country (Iran) that the Arabs are not keen on….

But if Smooha’s optimism still survives those results and the 2007 results, it’s because it runs deep. As he wrote in the Israeli journal Alpayim in 1999—possibly heartened by a lull in the terror-war then still known as the Oslo peace process—

the Israeli-Arab conflict is coming to an end. It has been fading for two decades. The end of the conflict is a non-reversible process, which advances in stages, backed by international support and grounded in both Jewish and Palestinian public opinion.

Smooha, in other words, has an intellectual—and presumably also an emotional—stake in his optimism, and won’t let a little thing like the appalling findings of his own surveys dampen it.

Smooha may be right that the Israeli Arabs’ Israelization—or, alternatively, grudging acknowledgment of their good fortune to live in Israel—will keep them from large-scale insurrection. But unlike the general Israeli Jewish population that steers clear of Israeli Arab towns, Smooha doesn’t have the gumption to look at the deep-seated animosity for what it is.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

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