Israelis debate significance of apartheid survey | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 01.11.2012
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Israelis debate significance of apartheid survey

A controversial survey implies widespread support among Israeli Jews for an apartheid-style regime if Israel were to annex the occupied territories. But it adds such an annexation is unpopular.

Headlines are there to grab attention and in that regard the headline of an op-ed by Gideon Levy in the Israeli daily Haaretz was successful. "Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel" it said, and it set off a storm of reactions across the country. The text focused on a recently published survey of Israeli Jews' views of Palestinians living in Israel as well as the West Bank.

The study showed that 69 percent of those polled objected to allowing Palestinians in the West Bank the right to vote should the region be annexed by Israel. Some 74 percent of respondents to the survey supported the separation of Israelis and Palestinians on roads in the occupied territories in the event of annexation and 38 percent said they support annexing territories where Israeli settlements have been constructed - 48 percent of those polled objected to such an annexation.

A whiff of apartheid?

Collage of logos from Israeli media outlets

Media were quick to comment on the study and the op-ed

The poll was commissioned by Amiram Goldblum, a biochemist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a group of seven other activists, and it was conducted by the Dialog polling center in September. Goldblum was reserved when it came to calling the poll's results proof that Israelis support an apartheid regime.

The study reported "apartheid is in the air" and "apartheid in Israel is possible" in the case of annexation, though it also pointed out that a majority of Israeli Jews were against annexing the occupied territories.

After major criticism of Levy's op-ed, Haaretz changed the headline on the text to "Survey: Most Israeli Jews wouldn't give Palestinians the vote if West Bank was annexed" and issued a clarification that the original headline "did not accurately reflect the findings of the Dialog poll" because it did not make clear enough that the poll was based on a hypothetical situation of what Israeli Jews thought should happen if Israel were to annex the occupied territories.

But Levy then wrote that other findings in the survey meant there was no reason for him to change his original position. The study found that 49 percent of those polled said they wanted the state to take more care of Jewish than Arab citizens; 42 percent said they did not want an Arab family as neighbors in their building while 53 percent said they do not care; 42 percent said they do not want an Arab child to be in their children's class while 49 percent said they did not care.

Controversial findings

"The most important thing was, and remains, that a significant portion of Israeli's Jewish society advocates positions that can only be described as nationalistic and racist," Levy wrote on Haaretz's website.

A general view of the Israeli settlement Har Homa is seen in eastern Jerusalem, Photo: UPI Photo/Debbie Hill /Landov

Most Israelis want only to keep settlements close to the border

Just over a week after the op-ed was published, it had attracted over 200 online comments, showing divisions among Israelis about the poll and the way it had been interpreted. While some accused the study of using a too small sample - 503 people - others said a comparable study of Palestinians would reach similar conclusions. Still others described the poll's results as generally correct. Most commentators, however, agreed that views about Palestinians depended greatly on a person's religious views. Distaste for Palestinians is strongest among those who identified as ultra-orthodox, while those who said they were secular were least likely to support anti-Palestinian positions.

"Israel is not the cohesive society that we used to have at the beginning of the state in the 1940s until about 1976 or 1977," Goldblum said, adding that the right grew in power and influence after the late 1970s. "Israel has become a fragmented society."

Other observers share Goldblum's view. Former Israeli ambassador to Berlin Avi Primor told DW most Israelis believe the Zionist view that they, like every other people, need a state in order to live a dignified life. Many religious Jews saw the situation differently, "They are waiting for the Messiah to rebuild the temple that was burned down 2,000 years ago," he said. "They are in the minority."

Divided society

The gap between ideological views in Israel is growing. Author David Grossmann, who won The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2010, said he fears secular and liberal views will be drowned out in Israel.

Israeli protestors of the Peace Now movement call for an end to Jewish settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron Photo: EPA/ABED AL HAFIZ HASHLAMOUN +++(c) dpa - Report+++

Failure to reach a peace deal could divide Israeli society further

"If the ultraorthodox gain power, there will no be no democracy, no freedom of speech, no equality for women, no rights for minorities," he told DW. "Homosexuals will be dealt with almost like animals - not to mention how non-Jews would be treated in such a state."

The situation with regard to relations with Arabs does not need to go that far, the survey's authors said. Most Israelis are against annexing settlements in the occupied territories. But if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved, it could lead to an even larger ideological gap.

"The current situation is a hotbed for the rise and success of extreme right-wing parties and ideas in Israel," the study said.

Whether that is fertile enough ground for an apartheid regime to form will continue to be debated in Israel.

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