Avram Israel Reisner
Rabbi Emeritus of Chevrei Tzedek Congregation, Baltimore, MD

What’s Wrong with the Headline: Nearly Half of Jewish Israelis Want to Expel Arabs

Actually, there are many things that could be said to be wrong with this headline, not least of which is the apparent moral failing it reports. Was this not the stance of Meir Kahane for which his Kach party was banned from standing in elections in Israel thirty years ago? That today it finds support in nearly half the Jewish population is as remarkable as it is frightening. But that was the finding of a Pew Research Center study reported in the last week, and as such it cannot be denied.

But all numbers are subject to spin, and the reporting on this particular number points to a problem that resides in a particular sector of Israeli political opinion, and that needs be seen more clearly than the headline allows. For while it is true that “nearly half (48%) of Jewish Israelis want to expel Arabs,” that opinion is not at all distributed evenly among one in two Israelis. Just under two thirds (63%) of the respondents classed themselves politically as centrist or left-wing, and of those Jewish Israelis fully two thirds oppose the expulsion of Arabs from Israel. The preponderant majority of Israelis do not see themselves as right wing, and do not hold this opinion that was officially ruled unacceptable years ago.

So how is it possible that a poll of Israelis finds that nearly half of Jewish Israelis hold such an execrable position? It’s all in the math. Almost three quarter of the third of Israelis who do characterize themselves as right wing (somewhat more than a third — in the Pew poll it was 37%) hold that opinion and skews upward the sample of all “Jewish Israelis” who wish to expel Arabs. Unconscionable. Frightening. And largely a phenomenon of Israel’s right wing.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in the United States among the supporters of Donald Trump who disproportionately hold the opinion that President Obama is either Muslim or born outside the United States. To the extent that these views are seen as problematic, that problem resides in a select population. To the extent that these views are seen as problematic, that is the population that needs to address its problem, or else that population must be repudiated by the more matun majority.

About the Author
Avram Israel Reisner is Rabbi Emeritus of Chevrei Tzedek Congregation. He has a PhD in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
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