To what extent are Arab Israelis proud to be Israelis? In the current climate such a question sounds like a provocation – another taunt in the face of the minority. But surveys in which the general Arab public is asked this question and others like it consistently reflect a picture which will surprise many. Of course civil rights are not contingent on affection for the state or ideological orientation. But no minority in the world has ever profited from being depicted as more hostile–much more hostile–to the state than they are in fact. When the minorities’ adversaries create such an impression, this is deplorable but natural; when this is done by the minority community’s own leaders, this is even more problematic.
According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s “Israeli Democracy Index for 2011,” 52.8% of Arab citizens (as opposed to 88% of Jewish citizens) respond in the affirmative when asked whether they are proud to be Israelis. Only 28.3% of the respondents answer that “they are not at all proud” to be Israelis. This view, held by less than one third of the Arabs in Israel, represents, as everyone knows, close to one hundred percent of what is said in the name of this population in public.
These findings are not at all unusual. In 2009, in a survey conducted one week after the end of “Operation Cast Lead” (the invasion of the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008), 45% of Arab Israelis answered that they were proud to be Israelis. One year previous the number had been 53%. I had occasion to ask a group of British journalists, during a conversation in which they rightly questioned me on the status of Arab Israelis, if, in their assessment, 45% of the Catholics in Northern Ireland would be prepared to say that they were “proud to be British.” “I don’t think that there are 45 Catholics in Northern Ireland who would be willing to say that, let alone 45%,” answered one of the journalists.
Of course, being proud to be an Israeli does not mean refraining from harsh criticism of the establishment. According to the 2011 survey, only 24.5% of Arab Israelis trust the Prime Minister; 35.5% trust the government as an institution; 44% trust the Knesset; 39% trust the police; 45.6% trust the state prosecution service; 50% trust the Attorney General; and 69.4% trust the Supreme Court (almost identical to the percentage among Jewish Israelis). The IDF enjoys the trust of 41% of Arab citizens and 45% agree that it is “very important” or “quite important” to strengthen Israel’s military capability. Who within the Jewish public would have guessed that the percentage of Arab citizens for whom strengthening Israel’s military capability is important is so much higher than the percentage of those for whom it is “not at all important” (29%)?
Are these responses credible? Some two years ago I saw a survey in which a sizeable percentage of voters for Arab political parties, including Balad, reported that they were Israeli patriots. People who tell an interviewer that they vote for Balad are not trying to ingratiate themselves with Jews. Averring pride in being an Israeli is a very powerful statement for an Arab citizen of the country –more powerful than the “loyalty,” which has been such a frequent topic of discussion recently.
And how is all this compatible with the broad support, among the Arab minority, for political parties which stand for the opposite view? It would seem that the basic attitude of the Arab minority towards the State is an ambivalent one. Given the current conditions, this ambivalence is good news. This public’s elected leadership reflects for the most part the negative side of this ambivalence, and nothing else; no force in the political arena reflects this ambivalence’s positive side, which, as we have seen, in not at all negligible. It is definitely in the interest of the Arab public, and of Israeli society as a whole, that such a force should emerge.
Note: On the day of this article’s publication in Haaretz, the National Security Studies Center at Haifa University presented the annual “National Resilience Index” for 2011 at the Herzliya Conference. In terms of the general Arab public’s attitude towards the state, the findings of that survey reinforce the picture presented in this article. The participants in the survey were asked to rate their agreement with the sentence, “I love Israel and am proud of it,” on a scale of 1 (total rejection of the statement) to 6 (complete agreement). The weighted result for the Arab public was 3.1817 (page 20). One can see, according to the graph included there, that this datum has not decreased during the time that it has been measured, starting in the last decade. Over the whole course of that time this result has remained consistently above 3.
This article was first published in Hebrew by Haaretz, and in English by the Metzilah Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanist Thought.