Headlines

10.23.12

That Poll's Apartheid Problem

The front page of today's Haaretz featured an article by Gideon Levy about a dramatic survey of Israeli Jewish public opinion. I admire Gideon Levy. He's had the courage over the years to document some of the ugliest aspects of the occupation. But the manner in which his column presented the information—under the headline "Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel"—seems to amount  to a misrepresentation of the data.

The poll actually shows that Israelis want to separate themselves from the West Bank, not even annexing the major settlement blocks. Only in a hypothetical situation—whereby their preference that Israel not annex the West Bank is ruled out by the pollster—do most Israeli Jews show a willingness to rule over non-voting Palestinians and thus tolerate apartheid.

So claiming the poll demonstrates support for “apartheid” is spin at its worst. It's a bit like talking to a terminal cancer patient who stops treatment to begin hospice care and then announcing that he or she wants to die. A more likely interpretation would be that the cancer patient wants to live, but would be willing to accept death if that were the only option.

So what does the poll really show?

1) Israeli Jews acknowledge that at this moment—in the midst of the occupation—Israel's democracy is in crisis. Hence the 58 percent of Israelis who say that "apartheid" could describe the Israeli reality today.

2) Israelis want to separate themselves from the West Bank in a manner consistent with the two-state solution. In two separate questions the notion of annexing any part of the West Bank was rejected.

3) Support for democratic values remains evident. Most Israelis oppose stripping Arab citizens of Israel of their voting rights.

But unpacking the misleading representation of the poll is insufficient. This is because, unfortunately, the poll shows large numbers of Israeli Jews who espouse severely anti-democratic values particularly in terms of minority rights.

Here's one example—and it's not necessarily the most egregious:

One third of Israeli Jews support stripping Arab Israelis of their voting rights. Full stop. That isn't most Israelis (in fact two thirds disagree), but 33 percent is far too large a number for those of us who care about Israel to be comfortable with.

Israel's Declaration of Independence presented a vision for Israel at odds with this racism. "The State of Israel," it read, "will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

Those of us who believe in this vision laid out 64 years ago need to be concerned about the figures shown in this survey. We need to work with Israeli partners who share this vision of equality and democracy for all Israelis. Together, we can push back against extremism and racism and defend the dream of a better Israel.