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So how should a Jew react to Jewish Apartheid?

Two weeks ago, by one authority at least (the government of Israel), there appeared for the first time since 1967 to be a non-Jewish majority in the land of, or occupied by, Israel — leading liberal Israeli daily Haaretz to declare that “a situation of apartheid exists“. A week later, this news was trumped by the evidence of a survey which carried under the headline “Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel.”

So how should a British Jew react to such news? In my case, though I left Zionism behind many years ago and can’t claim to be too surprised, the immediate emotional reaction included shock, sadness, anger and depression, and I’ve been thinking about it on and off for days. Today’s Jewish Chronicle reacts differently: it didn’t make the front page (its lead was “Boycotters routed in Israeli EU triumph” – a defeat for Palestinian rights whose importance I don’t deny), but on page 2 it led with “Shock findings of ‘Apartheid’ poll questioned“.

The JC’s headline is ‘justified’ by a claim by Dermot Kehoe, CEO of the UK’s Hasbara (literally ‘explanation’, but really Israeli government propoganda presented as grassroots opinion) mouthpiece, BICOM, who described the poll as “poor social science, and its results therefore bogus…. deeply unhelpful, will be jumped on by Israel’s critics and does not reflect the true views and values of Israeli society.”

It is not clear how the JC or BICOM could, reasonably, be so dismissive of  the methodology of the poll. Dialog, who carried out the poll, also undertake other polling for Haaretz on Israeli politics and other matters. Their chairman is respected Tel Aviv University Professor of Statistics, Camil Fuchs. The sample size at 503, though a little small by British standards (although the UK population is 10 times greater) which will affect the sampling error especially in subgroup analysis, is absolutely standard in similar polls for Haaretz, including this one covered without comment by the JC, as well as by other agencies for other Israeli newspapers, the Jerusalem Post, Maariv and Yedioth Ahronot.

Some of the worst opinions quoted by Haaretz (article reproduced here) were these:

The majority of the Jewish public, 59 percent, wants preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don’t want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don’t want their children in the same class with Arab children.

There are others which may give some encouragement: a majority of 48% to 38% (see the infographic above) still oppose the the annexation of West Bank settlements — although most Jewish Israelis would understand this to exclude settlements in Jerusalem although these are just as illegal under international law and and are where 39% of the settlers live.

Personally, I have always avoided Apartheid comparisons with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, not because they do not have any validity but because in all such comparisons there are significant differences as well as similarities, and they antagonise at least as often as they illuminate. However, 58% of Israelis already accept, according to this poll, in some or most ways.

A comparison with pre-Kristallnacht Nazi Germany is even more controversial but also increasingly common in Israel, especially since Avraham Burg, former chair of the Knesset and of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, made it in the Hebrew version of The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From its Ashes. This too has some validity but, in my view, is also best avoided, and for the additional reason that it raises the whole issue of Holocaust ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’. Unfortunately, the perpetrator-victim abusive cycle is rarely broken by taunting ‘victims’ for not knowing better. And people whose victimhood is induced by a state-sponsored culture of victimhood are no different in this regard.

Gideon Levy, who wrote the report of the poll in Haaretz, has subsequently gone on to explain the unpleasant attitudes it quanified thus:

Why would the average Israeli agree to have an Arab student in his child’s class or an Arab family in his apartment building if he has never met an Arab and knows of them only as terrorists, criminals or primitive people – the only images of Arabs to which he has been exposed? Why would he think that discrimination against Arabs by government ministries is a bad thing if the only reality he knows is one where Arabs are sewer workers or street sweepers, and he doesn’t know that Arabs are capable of more than that?

…. And that’s without even talking about Palestinians (Ed: ‘Arab’ in this context means an Israeli Arab as opposed to a Palestinian who is not Israeli): The last time (and also the first ) they met a Palestinian, if ever, was during their army service, through the sight of a rifle, as a suspicious and dangerous object.

Levy concludes, wrongly in my view, that “we need to finally give up on the hope that things will get better.” But they won’t get better until we start talking much more about boycotts and sanctions. And Jews would do well to start with other Jews and a boycott of illegal settlement goods.


  1. Alan Johnson says:

    You write, “It is not clear how the JC or BICOM could, reasonably, be so dismissive of the methodology of the poll.” OK, here is how it happened. We sat down and studied it. Then our Hebrew speakers then studied the raw data and the questions asked. We studied the mistranslations from Hebrew to English, the questions packed with what social scientists call ‘problem of meaning’, the false aggregations of data, and other problems. It became clear that the poll was badly flawed and, worse, the Haaretz editorialising and headlining had created nothing short of a distortion.

    I wrote about this at Harry’s Place. And we were right. Haaretz has had to issue a ‘clarification’ (i.e. an apology) “The original headline for this piece, ‘Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel,’ did not accurately reflect the findings of the Dialog poll.” And now Gideon Levy has issued an apology at the Haaretz site (‘Errors and Ommisions accepted’). Look out for BICOM Senior Research Associate Shany Mor’s (now at Oxford, ex Isareli National Security Council Foreign Policy Director) critique of the affair at Haaretz, and a longer BICOM epublication at our site.

    BICOM does not do ‘Hasbara’. I have published interviews with the democratic leftist and long-standing Peace Now supporter Michael Walzer, my colleague at Dissent magazine. I have organised a whole symposium about Peter Beinart’s book A Crisis of Zionism, including a long interview with Peter. I have published ex-Meretz advisor Alexander Yakobson and Yachad Director Hannah Wiesfeld, Merchavim Director Mike Prashker, and so on.

    Our new journal, Fathom, features the Israeli NGO Tsofen which gets Israeli Arabs into Hi-tech, a head to head debate between Ami Ayalon and Moshe Arens on unilateral withdrawal, Michael Walzer talking about what Zionism means to him, Noam Leshem on Jerusalem, Ezra Mendelsohn on Colin Shindler’s book, and more.

    Please, can we get past the ad homimen stuff? You are right that the extent of racism in Israeli society is deeply worrying. But there is a powerful civil society campaign against it, near-universal condemnation of price-tagging (a slither of a slither of a slither doing that) and still, nothing, absolutely nothing, in principle to prevent Israel’s minority enjoying individual and collective minority rights. See the interview with Tal Becker ‘The idea of a Jewish State is itself Democratic‘ at the BICOM site. Alan Johnson, Senior Research Fellow, BICOM.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Alan: It is true that Haaretz has today (29 Oct – 2 days after this pece was written) published a clarification by Gideon Levy of the original piece which by the way was entitled ‘‘Errors and Ommisions excepted” (not “accepted” as you suggested). However, it was not as I read it an apology for the main thrust of the article at all and I quote it in full since you attack the original piece unfairly in my view, and misrepresent the correction which lies behind a paywall:

      The headline of a news article last week was misleading. Most Israelis do support an apartheid regime, but only if the occupied territories are annexed; however, most Israelis oppose such annexation.

      This article is meant to fix a few mistakes. They shouldn’t have happened; we must acknowledge them, apologize for them and fix them. They were not made intentionally, but as a result of neglect due to time pressure. Now is the time to make things right.

      The Dialog poll commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund, whose results were published in Haaretz last week, unearthed extremely serious and disturbing findings. It sketched a troubling portrait of a nationalistic and racist Israeli society. This isn’t the first survey to demonstrate such a trend and, unfortunately, it won’t be the last. The Hebrew headline of the news article describing the survey results (“Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel” ) was misleading. Most Israelis do support apartheid, but only if the occupied territories are annexed; and most Israelis oppose such annexation. Haaretz explained this in a clarification published in the Hebrew edition on Sunday.

      The article itself, which I wrote, did not contain any mistakes. It provided a precise and detailed description of the survey results. In my analysis of the survey, which appeared as a separate article, there was a single sentence that did not accurately represent the poll results and contradicted what I had written in the news piece a short time beforehand. My sin was to write: “The majority doesn’t want Arabs to vote for the Knesset, Arab neighbors at home or Arab students at school.”

      The truth, as I wrote in the news piece, is different: “Just” 33 percent of the respondents said they don’t want Arabs to vote in parliamentary elections, “just” 42 percent wouldn’t want an Arab neighbor, and about the same proportion said it would bother them if there were an Arab student in their child’s class. Not a majority – just a (large ) portion of Israelis espouse these frightening views. Cold comfort.

      Imagine a similar survey in France: A third of the French don’t want Jews to be eligible to vote and nearly half don’t want a Jewish neighbor or a Jewish student in their child’s class. The right-wing propagandists who are currently causing a ruckus about my mistake would be among the first to shout “anti-Semitism.” But for us, the Jews, it’s allowed.

      The routine excoriation took off. The mirror reflects an unsightly image? Let’s smash it. The messenger stumbles? Let’s slander him, and to hell with everything else described in his article, even discounting the mistake. This is what propagandists always do. One particularly pathetic one has built an entire career out of ridiculously rummaging through negligible errors. Instead of anger being directed toward the findings of the survey – which is what should have caused a scandal – many readers and commentators focused on the unfortunate mistakes that were made. Those errors did not change the survey results even one iota, but they did divert the public’s attention from the important to the trivial.

      This deviation from the important issue, this incitement against the mistakes, was done deliberately. It was intended to obscure the truth revealed by the survey, which justifiably has garnered harsh responses around the world. It was the final means of propaganda available to those who seek to blur the true image of Israeli society and paint an unrealistic, imaginary portrait instead.

      The most important thing was, and remains, that a significant portion of Israel’s Jewish society advocates positions that can only be described as nationalistic and racist. Nearly half of the respondents don’t want an Arab neighbor or an Arab student in their child’s class; a third don’t want Arabs to vote; nearly half want to discriminate against Arabs living in the country. Isn’t that enough to scare anyone who fears for the future of this country?

      But the right wing and its mouthpieces aren’t interested in any of that. They are interested solely in an unfortunate mistake that barely changed anything. Herein lies a challenge for those who are not bothered by the results of the survey but are horrified by the errors made in reporting it: Bring us another reliable poll that proves Israeli society is not as racist and nationalistic as depicted in this survey. That would really make things right.

  2. Alan Johnson says:

    Haaretz has now published Shany Mor’s critique of the poll. Here it is:

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