Pew: 48 percent of Israeli Jews want Arabs out of country

Ben Sales

An Orthodox man arguing with a secular woman in Jerusalem, Sept. 4, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Orthodox man arguing with a secular woman in Jerusalem, Sept. 4, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Nearly half of Israeli Jews want to expel Arabs from the country.

That’s one of several surprising 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 American Jews, 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 between religious Zionists (13 percent), haredi Orthodox Jews (9 percent) and traditional Jews (29 percent).

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The study, released on Tuesday morning, is based on 5,600 interviews with Israelis conducted between October 2014 and May 2015 and 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) Almost half of Israeli Jews 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 Israeli Jews 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) Israeli Jews are less liberal and more religious than American Jews

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

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

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

3) Two-thirds of Israeli Jews 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 Israeli Jews say they observe no religious traditions.

But some Jewish customs have gained something akin to a consensus following in Israel. Nearly all Israeli Jews attend a Passover seder. Almost two-thirds of Israeli Jews keep a kosher home, including one-third of secular Israelis. By contrast, only 22 percent of American Jews 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) 19 percent of Israeli haredim say you can believe in Jesus and still be Jewish

On the whole, Israeli Jews maintain a broad definition of who is a Jew. Solid majorities of Israeli Jews 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 Israeli Jews — and 19 percent of haredi Israelis — 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 Israeli Jews 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 7 children.

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

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

A solid majority of Israeli Muslims and Christians say religion is “very important” to them, compared to just two percent of secular Jews. Forty-five percent of Israeli 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. About half of Muslims attend mosque weekly — fewer than the solid majorities of Orthodox Israelis who go to synagogue every week, but far above the low rates of non-Orthodox attendance.

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