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Surprise! Israeli “Racism” Is Waning

Reading certain papers (the New York Times and Haaretz come to mind), one could easily conclude that racism is spreading like a plague through Israeli society. So it’s worth listening to what an expert had to say on the subject this week–and according to Prof. Sammy Smooha, it’s all bunk. In fact, Smooha said, the opposite is true: Israeli Jews have grown more tolerant of Israeli Arabs even though the latter have become more extreme.

Smooha has published an annual Index of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel since 2003, in conjunction with the Israel Democracy Institute. The 2012 index came out last week, and here’s its conclusion: “In contrast to the marked toughening of Arab attitudes, there was no similar change in Jewish attitudes over the years [since 2003], but rather stability and even some moderation prevailed.” Smooha reiterated that conclusion at an IDI roundtable this week: “Whatever the media thinks, Jews have not become more extreme. The processes that have made Arabs more extreme have not affected Jewish opinions.”

Indeed, compared to 2003, the survey found that fewer Israeli Jews now object to Arab neighbors or to Arab students in Jewish schools (universities are integrated, but most Arabs prefer to send their children to Arabic-speaking primary and secondary schools). In addition, more are prepared to accept Arab parties in government coalitions, and most think Israeli Arabs should be allowed “to self-administer their religious, cultural, and educational institutions.”

Clearly, some racism still exists, as it does in every society. What the study demonstrates, however, is not just that the allegations of metastasizing racism are overblown, but that some of what outsiders deem “racism” is actually an understandable response to growing Arab extremism.

For instance, 59 percent of Arab respondents said Palestinians would be justified in launching another intifada if the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate continues, while 58 percent considered it “justified that Arab citizens in Israel begin an Intifada of their own if their situation does not improve significantly.” Lest anyone has forgotten, the last intifada was a bloody terrorist war that killed over 1,000 Israelis, most of them civilians. And while terrorist organizations perpetrated most of the attacks, sometimes, individual Arabs simply turned on the nearest Jew. Given this, one can understand why some Jews remain reluctant to have Arab neighbors or hire Arab employees: They don’t want to be convenient targets if an Israeli Arab intifada erupts.

Similarly, when 70 percent of Israeli Arabs think Israel has no right to maintain a Jewish majority, one can understand why almost half of Israeli Jews still oppose having Arab parties in the government: They don’t want a government comprised of parties that oppose fundamental elements of Zionism like the Law of Return, which has played a major role in maintaining Israel’s Jewish majority by enabling any Jew to immigrate. As Smooha noted, there’s “a deep divide over the very nature of the state.”

Thus the best way to moderate Israeli Jewish “racism” would be to moderate Israeli Arab extremism. But unfortunately, many well-meaning American Jews are doing the opposite: Via organizations like the New Israel Fund, they finance Israeli Arab groups that actively promote extremist views–like Adalah, which demands that Israel replace the Law of Return with a Palestinian “right of return” to Israel. And they are thereby distancing rather than promoting the more tolerant Israel they claim to want.