Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Scribblings: Reality and Racism

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Tzvi Fleischer


There has been a lot of talk in the media about how Israel is supposedly becoming a more right-wing, less democratic and more "racist" society. Anecdotal evidence cited to support this view usually includes things like controversial Israeli legislative proposals, incidents of racist violence or vandalism, and racially problematic statements by public figures there.

Never mind that virtually none of the controversial legislative proposals - some genuinely unwise and/or ugly, others unfairly demonised by opponents - actually passed into law. And never mind that incidents of racial violence and vandalism occur everywhere - and in Israel, like in Australia, they are condemned across the board.

And never mind that Israel is not the only country where public figures say apparently insensitive and poorly thought out things and get themselves into trouble (In Australia, think Clive Palmer, Sen. Jacquie Lambie, dumped Queensland state Labor candidate Peter Watson and dumped Victorian state Liberal candidate Jack Lyons, for example.)

To sensibly assess claims that Israel is becoming less democratic or more racist, it's worth having a look at what the actual big picture results in Israel have been like in terms of integration and co-existence between Jews and the Arab minority. And they speak for themselves.

Polls are clear - racist attitudes by Israeli Jews have been declining over recent years. According to the annual survey called the "Index of Arab-Jewish Relations", conducted by Haifa University sociology Professor Sammy Smooha for the Israel Democracy Institute, since 2003 there has been a steady fall in the number of Jews who say they would have a problem with having an Arab as a neighbour or attending their child's school (most Israeli Arab children attend Arabic-language schools separate from the Hebrew-language schools attended by Jews). Also, a majority of Israeli Jews are today happy to see the predominately Arab political parties participate in government coalitions - which wasn't true a decade ago.

Israel has been clearly moving toward greater integration of Arabs into national life, thanks partly to government programs. Affirmative action programs saw the number of Israeli Arabs in the civil service quadruple from 2007 to 2011. Similarly, Israel has in place a large-scale program to increase the number of Israeli Arabs in higher education. The Council on Higher Education is being given US$82 million over six years to subsidise preparatory courses for university entrance exams, tutoring and career counselling for university students, and scholarships for advanced degrees for Israeli Arabs.

Furthermore, Israeli Arabs are already over-represented amongst some well-paid, highly-educated positions in Israel today. For instance, about half of all Israeli pharmacists are Arab, and Arabs are also well-represented in medicine and nursing. The number of Arabs working in Israeli high tech has also been growing rapidly recently - up from only about 250 in 2008 to more than 2,000 today.

In the past, it was often claimed that Arab municipalities were discriminated against in terms of allocation of government funding compared to Jewish ones. If that was ever true, it is not true today. A study released in September by the Adva Centre found that Israeli Arab municipalities now receive more funding per capita than most majority Jewish ones do - even the smaller and poorer peripheral Jewish "development towns" which get extra money. The study found that Arab municipalities now get US$628 per capita per year, compared to US$522 for development towns, and US$465 for larger and most settled municipalities.

Israeli Arabs themselves appear to recognise that their situation is at least reasonably satisfactory. A poll in September conducted for the Israel Democracy Institute found that more Israelis Arabs than Jews are satisfied with the country's current situation, 52% versus 38%. Meanwhile, asked about personal satisfaction with their lives, Israeli Arabs and Jews said they were satisfied at similar levels - Jews:75%, Arabs:73%. This is consistent with last year's "Index of Arab-Jewish Relations" poll which found that 63.5% of Israeli Arabs surveyed consider Israel to be a good place to live and a majority said they would prefer to live in Israel than in any other country.

ISIS - More Popular in Europe than Mideast

Here's a less than fun fact: ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) appears to be more popular overall - not just among Muslims - in some Western states than in most Middle Eastern ones.

A new poll undertaken by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that just 3% of Egyptians expressed a positive opinion of ISIS, as did only 5% of Saudis, and under 1% of Lebanese respondents. Even among Sunni Lebanese, only 1% were pro-ISIS.

Yet in a poll in August done by ICM research, 7% of UK respondents said they had a somewhat favourable or very favourable view of the group, as did 16% of French residents polled - with 27% of French respondents between 18-24 offering a favourable view of ISIS. These numbers suggest that, even though ISIS is known for beheadings, terrorism, mass executions, ethnic cleansing and selling women into slavery, large percentages of Western Muslims - and perhaps some non-Muslims as well - are nonetheless attracted to this group's violent, totalitarian message.

These polls suggest a chilling reality - ISIS appears to have a tremendous ability to appeal to disaffected Muslims in the West, even more so than to Middle Easterners with more developed and settled identities. This almost certainly also applies in Australia to a greater or lesser degree, as evidenced not only by the Australians who have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join up, but the support their actions have garnered on social media.