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JIIS Bulletin - July 2012
Israeli Arabs keen on full citizenship
Most Israeli Arabs would like to enjoy full and inclusive citizenship, even with its mandatory civil service. This was the primary finding in a survey exploring relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. “What we found was that Israel’s Arab citizens are interested in being equal and integrated Israelis within the state, even though Israel defines itself as Jewish and democratic, as long as the state does not discriminate against them on matters of citizens’ rights,” states JIIS’ Prof. Yitzhak Reiter, who oversaw the survey. At the same time, most Jewish Israelis are interested in granting their Arab counterparts equal citizenship and are “willing to grant them some degree of collective rights based on their national minority status.”  

The survey was commissioned by JIIS and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty, and was conducted by the Smith Research Institute. Dr. Maya Choshen of JIIS served as statistical consultant. Its aim was to explore the positions of the Arab public and the Jewish public regarding 16 action proposals for promoting the equality and integration of Arab citizens within the state. The proposals were the culmination of a two-year project, whose findings were recently published as “Towards Inclusive Israeli Citizenship: A New Conceptual Framework for Jewish-Arab Relations in Israel” headed by Reiter. “We sought to strike a balance between Israel’s two values – as a Jewish state and as a democratic state – in such a way that citizenship would encompass Israel’s Arabs on an equal basis, while reinforcing the country’s democratic nature and Jewish character.”  

The fundamental approach of “Towards Inclusive Israeli Citizenship” is that each side recognize the essential needs of the other community: Arabs would participate in civil service, which would gradually (within five years) become mandatory service; they would recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with Hebrew as the first official language; and they would accept the continued existence of the Law of Return for Jews. The Jews, for their part, would recognize Arabs as a national minority; they would grant equality to Arabs in civic matters, in addition to the rights and status derived from recognizing them as a national minority. “This approach is a ‘package deal’ of sorts - each side will need to make concessions on some matters if they are to construct a shared and inclusive system of citizenship and keep internal relations stable.” 

The survey found that a vast majority of Arabs (80%) accepted the 16 action proposals as a “package deal” while a minority (14%) opposed it. Among Jews, there is a stronger tendency to support the package deal than there is to oppose it (48% vs. 43%). In all, 73% of Arabs and 72% of Jews agree that Israel be defined as and continue to be a Jewish and democratic state, and that the definition of the state as democratic will ensure equality of citizenship, non-discrimination against Arabs, and progressive human rights. The survey polled a representative sample of 500 Jews and 500 Arabs in Israel. 

Reiter said that “one of the surprising findings is that most Arabs – 62% (and 61% of Jews) – responded affirmatively to the question: ‘Do you agree [with the proposal] that Arab citizens participate in voluntary civil service that within five years would become mandatory (receiving the full rights that Jews who complete service receive)’? 

“This finding clashes with the declared position of the Arab leadership, which calls for the boycotting of civil service. It shows that a large gap exists between the Arab leadership and the public regarding integration into the social fabric of life in the state,” Reiter said, adding that in previous surveys only a third of Arabs expressed readiness to have civil service become mandatory. “At least as interesting is the finding that Arab support for mandatory civil service rises to a huge 74% when it is proposed that administration of such service be transferred from the Prime Minister’s Office to a social services government ministry that would cooperate with the local Arab authorities.” 

On the Jewish side it was surprising to see the relatively widespread support for equal citizenship for Arabs. Most Jewish respondents – 68% – agreed with the proposal that a statutory body be established within the Ministry of Justice to oversee equality of citizenship; 50% supported (45% opposed) the appropriate integration of Arabs in senior public service positions; a larger majority (57%, with 38% opposed) accepted integration of Arabs in all areas of the media and all levels of employment therein. In addition, a larger majority – 60% – accepted the teaching of Arab culture in Jewish schools, and 69% agree that Arabic language be taught in Jewish schools. 

At the same time, however, support within the Jewish sector was lower for those proposals that were based on recognition of the Arabs as a national minority: 45% agreed while 48% opposed. Yet 51% of Jewish respondents agreed that the status of the Arabic language as the second official language be reflected in public spaces (46% opposed this).

In all, 74% in the Jewish sector and 87% in the Arab sector think that relations between the sides can be improved. Of the Arabs, 47% believe that relations will improve in the future, as opposed to 14% of Jewish respondents. Only 22% of Jews and 9% of Arabs view relations as on a collision course and that nothing can be done about this.

Reiter: “The survey’s findings indicate that the Jewish public is interested in integrating Arab citizens when it comes to matters of citizenship but opposes any change in matters of identity when it comes to issues viewed as challenging or threatening to Israel’s Jewish character. The fact that only 43% of Jews polled opposed the package deal of proposals is encouraging. This means the government could enact policy reforms integrating Arab citizens without significant loss of political support among Jewish citizens. 

“These findings allow the government to make gradual progress towards an Israeli citizenship that would encompass Arab citizens as equals. A starting point could be implementation of those proposals that a clear majority of Jewish respondents support: teaching Arabic language and culture in Jewish schools; establishing a commission for equal citizenship within the Ministry of Justice; and making civil service for Arabs mandatory within five years. As noted, we raised the idea that administration of that service be transferred to a social services government ministry which would work with local Arab authorities. Such a measure would greatly reduce opposition to civil service among Arabs.” 

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