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Ethnic cleansing poll a dangerous sign for Israel

The vast majority of Jewish Israelis don’t want to give up their privilege. But nobody has the right to ‘democratically’ deny rights to another.

A Palestinian bus drives along Israel’s separation wall between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Jerusalem, February 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian bus drives along Israel’s separation wall between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Jerusalem, February 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The most shocking piece of information to come out of a Pew Research Center survey of Israeli society published Tuesday is that nearly half of Jews in the country say they support the ethnic cleansing of Arabs. Forty-eight percent of Jewish respondents agreed/strongly agreed that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.”

Digging deeper into the data, however, that glimpse into the collective political mindset of half of Israel’s Jewish population becomes less and less surprising. Furthermore, the full set of data makes the prospect of Israel voluntarily ending the occupation and becoming a state of all its citizens appear more distant than ever.

The picture of the Jewish Israeli body politic drawn by the Pew survey seems to mirror the state of Israel’s politics, an indication that Israel’s system of government is more akin to a tyranny of the majority than democracy.

For instance, we learn from the survey that the vast majority of Israeli Jews (79 percent) think Israel should give preferential treatment to its Jewish citizens. A statistically identical number (76 percent), with some obvious dissonance, say they believe that democracy is compatible with a Jewish state. Democracy without full equality for all citizens, however, is only a democracy in name.

Another insight, which is possibly more troubling although not as sexy a headline, is that there is no viable political force or portion of Israeli society that opposes those illiberal currents which run straight to the core of Israel’s national identity — a system of government that academic Oren Yiftachel termed ethnocracy.

Where is the political opposition? Where are those political forces, those peace-seekers and civil rights crusaders who would fight for a better, more equal, liberal and democratic future? Where is the Left?

The Pew survey found that only 8 percent of Jewish Israelis today identify with the political Left — 92 percent with the Center and Right. Or in other words, there is no Left. Indeed, the only Zionist party that places itself on the political Left, Meretz, holds a mere five of 120 seats — 4 percent — in the country’s parliament, the Knesset. (There are non-Zionist parties that are often identified with the Israeli ideas ascribed to liberalism and the Left, but their support from the Jewish population is nominal.)

So if there is no Left, and if the vast majority of the Center and Right believes one ethno-religious group should receive privileged or preferential treatment from the state — necessarily at the expense of other ethno-religious groups — then we can deduce that under current circumstances the prospects of Israel voluntarily becoming a state that treats all citizens equally are slim to none.

“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter From Birmingham City Jail. In Israel today we can see that tragic process playing out yet again.

Dozens of Palestinians wait to climb over the separation wall near Qalandiya checkpoint, June 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Dozens of Palestinians wait to climb over the separation wall near Qalandiya checkpoint, East Jerusalem, June 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

We are at the tail end of two decades of failed peace processes. Those processes were not meant to liberate Palestinians or to grant them equality, either in Israel or the occupied territories. By drawing political boundaries — a la gerrymandering — to ensure a Jewish majority, the peace process was designed to preserve Jewish privilege within a Jewish state while maintaining the country’s democratic, or rather ethnocratic, character.

Today even the Labor party, which designed, championed and sold the two-state solution to the world as an alternative to both full equality and apartheid, has given up on that dream. In turn, that has led us into an abyss where half of the Jewish population appears willing to openly consider a step as drastic as ethnic cleansing to preserve its privilege, privilege 91 percent say is necessary for the long-term survival of the Jewish people.

But just as it is not legitimate for Israel’s Jewish population to “democratically” decide whether to treat the country’s Arab citizens equally, it is even less legitimate for Jewish Israelis to “democratically” decide to deny basic civil and human rights to the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The leader of the Israeli opposition, of the so-called “peace camp,” recently declared that “a full peace agreement, unfortunately, isn’t around the corner and at this stage.” Palestinians must wait for Israel to grant them their rights, he has been explaining for the past few months. But what right does he, or any Israeli leader, have to decide if and when a group of people — who did not elect them — can realize their rights?

Isaac Herzog wants Palestinians to patiently wait for their rights until he decides the time is right. He understands, and he knows that his constituency understands, that granting Palestinians equal rights would destroy Jewish privilege. And the alternative, a two-state solution, isn’t around the corner. So the Palestinians must wait.

But boycotts are wrong.

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    1. Robert

      Problem is that there is no movement among Palestinians or others demanding that Israel become “a state of all its citizens,” let alone a state of all the residents in the territories it controls.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gabi

        The problem is that whenever there is a strong Palestinian movement Israel cracks down on them, labeling them terrorists. And any campaign by Jews in Israel to attempt to convince Israel that they should endorse human rights for all, they are labeled self-hating Jews, traitors, anti-Semites, etc.

        Reply to Comment
      • Shahab

        Really? Have you never heard of secular Palestinian organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Fatah? Before Oslo, they used to advocate for a secular one state solution where every body would be equal, Jew or Arab.
        But too bad. Like another answerer said, Israel immediately labelled all of them terrorists.
        Ironically, any Jew that advocates for equality between all Arabs and Jews in the area, is immediately labelled by his fellow Israelis as “self-hating Jew”, “anti-Semite”, etc.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Robert

      Problem is that there is no movement among Palestinians demanding that Israel become “a state of all its citizens,” let alone a state of all the residents in the territories it controls. Nor a real campaign to convince the Israeli on the street that such is the way forward.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Michael Madamas

      Racist, you shouldn’t be writing..

      Reply to Comment
    4. Farragut

      Your point that Israel can’t both be democratic and have political rights for Jews only is exactly why so many Israeli Jews support the transfer solution: in an ethnically homogeneous state, the dilemma vanishes.

      As for “Israeli racism,” you who blame the “Occupation” for every Arab atrocity against the Israeli Jews should apply the same methodology and asks yourselves what the Arabs have done to make themselves so hated by the Jewish populace. What’s good for the goose, etcetera.

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        What have the Arabs done to make themselves so hated by the Israeli Jews?

        That’s not too hard. They exist. Their continued existence gives lie to the foundation myth so beloved by Zionists of a ‘land without people for a people without land’.

        Not only do they exist but they have not forgotten their history or their right to belong to the land.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          “They exist”. Inspite of everything since 1947, no matter what the zionist state has thrown at them, sprayed on them, shot, bombed or bulldozed, uprooted or firebombed, they exist. As so many no longer believe the fairy tale about ‘land without a” etc., it’s come to this. The results of this study had no surprises for anyone, did it? And the world does nothing. This problem won’t be solved without outside intervention and then I expect ol’ Netty will go for Masada 2.0 or start fiddling as Jerusalem burns, again.

          Reply to Comment
        • Farragut

          Yeah, they just exist. Innocent, cute, cuddly little lambs. But if I dared to suggest the innocence of Israeli Jews, and that their only sin is that “they exist,” you’d call me a racist and victimologist before you could say “double standard.”

          You antZis keep tell Israeli Jews to try walking in the other side’s shoes, but you never seem to take your own advice the other way round. You call yourselves tolerant and open-minded, but you shout down as “racist” and “bigot” anyone who disagrees with the idea that Zionism is a colonial enterprise. Self-serving hypocrites.

          Reply to Comment
          • David



            Are you serious?

            Surely, you must know that Palestinians are the occupied, Israel is their belligerent/illegal/brutal occupier; Palestinians are the dispossessed, Israel is their ethnic cleanser; Palestinians are the oppressed, Israel is their oppressor; Palestinians are the victims, Israel is their victimizer; Palestinians have international law on their side, Israel is a serial and accelerating violator of international law, including humanitarian law. Every day, more and more people around the world, including righteous Jews, are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians and rightfully viewing Israel as a rogue and a pariah.
            The handwriting is on the wall. Regrettably, you and your ilk refuse to read it.

            Reply to Comment
        • David

          Well said!!

          Reply to Comment
    5. Jacob

      48% is only the part admitting that it supports ethnic cleansing, the real support is much higher.
      As Ilan Pappe mentioned about the ethnic cleansing of 80% of the Palestinians in Israeli-held territory in 1948: blocking the return of the refugees is an essential part of ethnic cleansing.
      How many Israeli Jews support blocking the return of 1948-refugees? 90%? 95%? 98%? They support ethnic cleansing!

      Reply to Comment