Haviv Rettig Gur

Proud to be (Arab) Israelis

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Israel's largest minority is feeling at home in the Jewish state

Last month, I wrote about the remarkable good news coming out of the haredi sector based on growing employment and greater access to higher education.

Now I’m happy to report some good — even shockingly good — news coming out of Israel’s Arab minority as well. This news centers on the most contentious of all claims made about Arab Israelis, a claim many believe, even if few will utter it aloud — that Israeli Arabs are disloyal Israelis and that they therefore constitute a potential threat to the survival of Jewish democratic nationhood.

The piece about the haredim was based on a 2010 government report. It wasn’t new, but it went so unnoticed by the media that it was still news. Here, too, the news isn’t new; it’s several months old. But it garnered so little media attention in real time that it might as well be hot off the press. (We all know that good news doesn’t make for good ratings, but it’s a shame the media consistently miss stories that are fundamental to understanding what is going on here.)

Jews and Arabs riding the Jerusalem Light Train (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash 90)
Jews and Arabs riding the Jerusalem Light Train (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

In a February 1 Haaretz column, Alexander Yakobson, a noted Hebrew University historian who also happened to write my favorite book, gives some enlightening statistics, gleaned from the Israel Democracy Institute’s Israeli Democracy Index for 2011 (PDF). I couldn’t find a translation from Haaretz itself, so I’m using one sent to me by Dr. Yakobson:

According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s “Israeli Democracy Index for 2011,” 52.8% of Arab citizens (as opposed to 88% of Jewish citizens) respond in the affirmative when asked whether they are proud to be Israelis.

The details are even more eye-opening:

Of course, being proud to be an Israeli does not mean refraining from harsh criticism of the establishment. According to the 2011 survey, only 24.5% of Arab Israelis trust the Prime Minister; 35.5% trust the government as an institution…; and 69.4% trust the Supreme Court (almost identical to the percentage among Jewish Israelis). The IDF enjoys the trust of 41% of Arab citizens and 45% agree that it is “very important” or “quite important” to strengthen Israel’s military capability.

Israeli Arabs like being Israeli, are proud to be Israeli and want Israel to remain secure.

Can this be true? Doesn’t it contradict the conventional wisdom of the media, the rhetoric of Israeli Arab leaders, the political discourse on both right and left? And if it is true, if hundreds of thousands of Arabs are proud Israelis, what should we make of the claim that a Jewish state can’t accommodate proud minorities?

Yakobson concludes that it is long past time for Israeli Arab politics to begin to reflect Israeli Arab feelings toward Israel:

It would seem that the basic attitude of the Arab minority towards the State is an ambivalent one. Given the current conditions, this ambivalence is good news. This public’s elected leadership reflects for the most part the negative side of this ambivalence, and nothing else; no force in the political arena reflects this ambivalence’s positive side, which, as we have seen, in not at all negligible. It is definitely in the interest of the Arab public, and of Israeli society as a whole, that such a force should emerge.

In case you are left wondering if these figures are an aberration from a single study, I urge you to read the piece in full. A translation, though poorly formatted, is available at the website of Metzilah, an important think tank on issues of Jewish statehood headed by law professor Ruth Gavison.

Yakobson also sent me a short postscript that does not appear in the Haaretz piece, showing that the IDI findings are the norm, not the exception:

On the day of this article’s publication in Haaretz, the National Security Studies Center at Haifa University presented the annual “National Resilience Index” for 2011 at the Herzliya Conference. In terms of the general Arab public’s attitude towards the state, the findings of that survey reinforce the picture presented in this article. The participants in the survey were asked to rate their agreement with the sentence, “I love Israel and am proud of it,” on a scale of 1 (total rejection of the statement) to 6 (complete agreement). The weighted result for the Arab public was 3.1817 (page 20). One can see, according to the graph included there, that this datum has not decreased during the time that it has been measured, starting in the last decade. Over the whole course of that time this result has remained consistently above 3.

About the Author
Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.