Nazareth—Nearly half the population of Israeli Jews support the expulsion or transfer of the Palestinian Arab minority from Israel. This figure, released in arecent study by the non-partisan American think tank Pew Research Center, confirms what Palestinian citizens of Israel already know as their lived experience: that they are seen as strangers, unwanted and unwelcome, in their own land.
The Pew survey found that 48% of Israeli Jews support the statement, “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel,” with roughly one in five Israeli Jews who “strongly agree.” Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews (79%) believe that Jews deserve preferential treatment in Israel.
It is worth noting that these statistics were compiled between late -2014 and mid-2015. In that time, a study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute revealed a similarly grim landscape: 53.6% of Israeli Jews believe important decisions of governance should require a Jewish majority, 56.6% oppose the inclusion of Arab parties or ministers in government, and 39% regard Arab citizens as a security threat. Indeed, this atmosphere of fear and racial hatred propelled the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned publicly as part of his campaign: “The Arabs are coming out to the polls in droves.”
Since that time, an outbreak and escalation of violence in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories have inflamed these tensions. Israeli police shoot down on sight Palestinian Arabs suspected of crime, regardless of the imminence of any threat; Israeli Jewish crowds attack individuals for “looking Arab”; and government officials move or threaten to revoke the citizenship or residency status—as well as demolish the family homes—of Palestinian Arabs charged with security offenses. For the Palestinian Arab minority, citizenship is not only conditional, but also ineffective to guarantee the most basic and fundamental human rights.
The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) regards the proliferation of anti-Arab racism among the Israeli public as both a reflection and a reinforcement of the long, widespread and systemic ongoing discrimination faced by the Palestinian Arab minority. This discrimination manifests in nearly all aspects of public life—from infrastructure and development to education and employment—and has made the Arab minority, which constitutes roughly 20% of the population, the most politically, economically and socially disenfranchised group in the State of Israel.
In recent months, the prominent right-wing group Im Tirtzu launched a public campaign to slander human rights activists and advocates as “moles” sent by foreign States to enable Palestinian terrorism. Hundreds of Israeli Jews in the city of Afula gathered to protest the purchase of housing tenders by Arabs, holding banners that read, “Afula is in danger.” But rather than combat the vicious spread of racism, Israeli state officials and institutions have enabled and even participated in this hateful escalation.
A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Israel confirmed the State’s authority to demolish and forcibly displace the Bedouin village Atir-Umm al-Hiran, in the absence of an essential public need, for the explicitly discriminatory purpose of building a new Jewish town upon its ruins. Current legislation penalizes the expression of certain issues important to the Palestinian community, such as commemorating the Nakba or supporting a non-violent boycott of Israel; a pending bill threatens to intimidate into silence and to restrict the funding of human rights and Palestinian NGOs working in Israel by labeling them “foreign state entities.” Most recently, the Israeli prime minister advanced a bill that would permit members of the Knesset to suspend indefinitely “misbehaving” MKs (primarily Arab ones) for expressing unpopular, critical views, such as challenging the nature of Israel as a “Jewish state.” This move garnered the support not only of the political establishment—including the “opposition”—but also of Israeli media, which has appealed to the general public for approval.
The rampant support in Israel for extremist measures such as population transfer comes at a time when discriminatory and ultra-nationalistic sentiments have gained currency throughout the world. It is terrifying that nearly half the majority population would support a policy that, at its best, reveals an incredibly racist disposition, and at its worst amounts to ethnic cleansing. Yet this reality did not emerge from nowhere. It is the logical consequence of a deeply rooted hostility to the Palestinian Arab minority that has continued since the State of Israel’s inception; it is part and parcel of the historic and ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people.
History has taught us that leniency, apathy and silence in the face of racism in public spaces only encourage its transition from rhetoric into action, cementing the belief in the need for racist policies and legitimizing the use of State violence to achieve them. The search for peace and stability cannot be done by sacrificing the principles of human rights and justice. Accordingly.
HRA calls upon the international community to take immediate and effective measures to combat the rise of racism and oppression of basic freedoms in Israel. We call upon the State of Israel to guarantee the protection of all civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of its Palestinian citizens, and to end racial discrimination in all its forms. We join in solidarity with marginalized groups around the world threatened by xenophobia and discrimination. Only the universal realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms can ensure peace, stability, security and justice in a time of severe unrest.