The publication earlier this month of a Pew Research Center survey of Israeli society has sparked a heated controversy, particularly over two of its findings. The first revealed that an alarming 79 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that “Jews deserve preferential treatment in Israel.” The other showed that a similarly distressing 48 percent of Jewish Israelis agree that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” In a country that frequently touts its pluralistic and democratic values, these sentiments are especially troubling.
The extent of discriminatory attitudes in Israel has been the subject of a polarizing debate within Jewish communities worldwide for years, and Pew’s survey has brought these differences to the fore. Some have explained the findings by underscoring the fear Israelis harbor from constant security threats. Some have expressed understanding for why Israelis want Arabs transferred, citing these threats. Others have largely discredited the findings, and still others have used them as proof that Israeli society is racist and anti-democratic. Any one of these disparate views, including those expressed by the author of this article, will elicit anger among some.
But perhaps the antidote to this anger, frustration and polarization would be an honest — albeit difficult — dialogue that illuminates our differences. Seeing our disagreements up close can help temper our views of those who have different ideas and can give our own perspectives greater depth. One can begin with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and a few of the Pew poll’s own advisers to see how this type of conversation is possible.