Sammy Smooha says there has been a hardening of Arab Israelis’ viewpoints on Israel.
An extensive survey released late last month indicated that Arab Israelis have become more extreme in their attitudes to the state and its Jewish majority, while Jewish Israelis have maintained their positions or have become more amicable to the Arab minority.
On the surface, the statistics of the 2012 Index of Arab-Jewish Relations In Israel seem straightforward, but professor Sammy Smooha of Haifa University, who conducted the study, said this is not the case. There are many reasons for the shift, and Israel has to own up to its side of the story.
“Why the hardening of the Arab view?” asked Smooha on a recent call from Israel. In the last decade, he answered, Arab-Israeli aspirations have been shattered.
“The second term of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, from 1992 to 1995, was a golden age of Jewish-Arab relations. The Oslo Accords meant for the Arabs the right to self-determination. … Aspirations for peace skyrocketed,” said Smooha. “Rabin … reduced many of the discriminations against the Arabs, he engaged in negotiations with their leaders, he respected them, and he felt the Israeli government could work with the Arab Israelis with respect and with equality.”
After Rabin’s assassination in November 1995, the Arabs’ hopes were shattered; the gap between their aspirations and reality became wider and wider.
Moreover, he said, Israeli action against the Palestinians since 2000 — the second Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense — affected attitudes, too.
“Arabs were disaffected by the state’s behavior toward [the Palestinians],” he said.
What is striking is that Israelis don’t recognize this. But Smooha said, “Why would they?” The issues that affect the Arabs often have little to do with the Jews, and the Jews don’t see it from the Arab perspective.
“Let’s take the war on Gaza. While from the Arabs’ view this was against the Palestinians, against the Arabs, and they feel a part of that group … as far as the Jews are concerned, this is an act of war and security and has nothing to do with the Arabs of
Israel,” Smooha explained.
In addition, he said, as Israel becomes more democratic — and despite media reports, he said it very much has — this affects the Jewish perspective. Jews are becoming more centrist (not right or left), which leads to a more moderate viewpoint and a goal of treating Arabs more equally than before. The Arabs, who live in Israel and read and learn about political enlightenment, become more politicized. The more they know, the more impatient they become with the continual discrimination.
Discrimination is a strong word. But Muhammad Darawsha, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, said it is the right term to use when referring to Israeli treatment of its Arab citizens. He said even the state has admitted that discrimination exists. In 2007, for example, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered a speech in which he accused Israel of “deliberately and institutionally discriminating against Arabs.”
Darawsha is not short on examples of this discrimination.
Israel’s Land Authority has a policy of preferential treatment of Jews in land appropriation and ownership. Jews control 97 percent of the land; Arabs, who make up 21 percent of the population, 3 percent.
Double the amount of the municipal budget goes to development of Jewish infrastructure. There are gaps in the education budget; Arabs children learn in schools without enough classrooms and with outdated curriculum. The result is that only 12 percent of Arab children (as opposed to 25 percent of Jewish children) attend a university.
And after college, there is discrimination in the workforce.