Pew: 48 percent of Israeli Jews want to expel Arabs from the country

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Nearly half of Jewish Israelis want to expel Arabs from the country.

That’s one of several findings from a new survey of Israeli attitudes on religion, politics and Jewish identity conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center.

Coming just three years after Pew’s much-discussed study of Jewish Americans, the Israel study depicts a country divided by religion and ethnicity, where Jews of opposing religious outlooks rarely associate and marriages that cross the Jewish-Arab divide almost never happen.

Israel is 81 percent Jewish and 19 percent non-Jewish, according to the survey. Among the Jews, half are secular. The other half is divided among traditional (29 percent), religious Zionists (13 percent) and haredi Orthodox (9 percent).

The study, which was released Tuesday morning, is based on 5,600 interviews with Israelis conducted between October 2014 and May 2015. It has a margin of error of 2.9 percent on questions asked of Jews and 5.6 percent for those asked of Muslims. Many of the findings confirm commonly held views about Israel, but here are six that may surprise you.

1. Nearly half of Jewish Israelis want Israel to be Arab-free.

Israeli politicians often tout Israel’s Arab minority as proof of the country’s diversity and democracy. But nearly half of Israel’s Jews want to see that minority forcibly removed.

Forty-eight percent of Jewish Israelis agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” Slightly fewer (46 percent) disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Support for removal draws largely from right-wing Israelis. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of self-identified right-wing Jews agreed that Arabs should leave Israel, as did 71 percent of religious Zionists and 59 percent of the haredi Orthodox. Among left-wing Jews, 10 percent said yes to forcible transfer.

2. Jewish Israelis are less liberal and more religious than Jewish Americans.

Across the board, Jewish Israelis tack significantly to the right of Jewish Americans. While nearly half of Jewish Americans call themselves “liberal,” according to a 2015 Pew survey of American religion, the figure for left-wing Jewish Israelis is just 8 percent. More than one-third of Jewish Israelis say they are right-wing, compared to just 19 percent of Jewish Americans who called themselves conservative in Pew’s 2013 study.

Those differences are particularly apparent with respect to Israeli-Palestinian relations. Sixty-one percent of Jewish Americans say “Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully,” according to Pew’s 2013 survey, while only 43 percent of Jewish Israelis feel similarly. Sixty-one percent of Jewish Israelis say God gave Israel to the Jews, a view that even 51 percent of non-Orthodox Israelis endorsed. Only 40 percent of Jewish Americans agree. A plurality of Jewish Israelis (42 percent) believe settlements make Israel more secure, as opposed to just 17 percent of Jewish Americans.

Israelis are also more religious than Jewish Americans. More than a quarter of Israelis attend weekly services, compared to about one-tenth of American Jews. Half of Jewish Israelis believe in God with absolute certainty, compared to one-third of Jewish Americans, and nearly half of Jewish Israelis don’t handle money on Shabbat, while almost all Jewish Americans do.

3. Two-thirds of Jewish Israelis keep kosher.

Israelis vary widely in their religious observance. Most religious Israelis pray daily, while their secular counterparts can go years without setting foot in a synagogue. One quarter of Jewish Israelis say they observe no religious traditions.

But some Jewish customs have gained something akin to a consensus following in Israel. Nearly all Jewish Israelis attend a Passover seder and almost two-thirds keep a kosher home, including one-third of secular Israelis. By contrast, only 22 percent of Jewish Americans keep a kosher kitchen. Four fifths of Israelis, including two-thirds of secular Jews, refrain from eating pork. Nearly half of Israel’s Russian-speaking Jews (47 percent) do eat pork.

4. Among Israeli haredim, 19 percent say you can believe in Jesus and still be Jewish.

On the whole, Jewish Israelis maintain a broad definition of who is a Jew. Solid majorities believe someone can deny God’s existence, work on Shabbat, harshly criticize Israel and still be Jewish. But an overwhelming majority draws the line at believing in Jesus as the messiah.

Only 18 percent of Jewish Israelis — and 19 percent of haredim — say a Jew can believe in Jesus and remain Jewish. In the United States, fully one-third of Jews say belief in Jesus is compatible with being Jewish.

5. Israel is getting more religious — but less Jewish.

Israel’s short history has been punctuated by successive waves of Jewish immigration from around the world, but even with those millions of newcomers, the country is proportionally less Jewish than when it was founded.

In 1949, Israel was 86 percent Jewish and 13 percent Arab. Now it’s 81 percent Jewish and 19 percent Arab.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Jews are becoming proportionally more observant. Between 2002 and 2013, the percentage of Jewish Israelis older than 20 who are Orthodox grew from 16 percent to 19 percent, according to the Israeli Social Survey. Haredi Israelis have far more children than secular Jews – 91 percent have more than three children, while half of secular Jews have two or less. More than a quarter of haredi families (28 percent) have at least seven children.

6. When it comes to religion, Arab Israelis look more like the Orthodox than secular Jews.

Political analysts often group Arab Israelis with secular left-wing Israelis due to their similar political leanings. But in terms of attitudes toward religion, Arab Israelis look more like Israel’s Orthodox Jews.

A solid majority of Muslims and Christians in Israel say religion is “very important” to them, compared to just 2 percent of secular Jews. Forty-five percent of the Muslims say being Muslim is mostly about religion — similar to the 52 percent of religious Zionists who see Judaism as mostly about religion.

Similar percentages of Muslims and religious Zionists pray daily. And similar percentages of Muslims and haredim believe in God with absolute certainty. Nearly half of Muslims attend mosque weekly — fewer than the solid majorities of the Orthodox Jews in Israel who go to synagogue every week, but far above the low rates of non-Orthodox attendance.

Ben Sales
Ben Sales

Ben Sales is news editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.