Survey: Despite slogans, Israeli Jews not ready for change

The recent Peace Index shows that when it comes to peace talks and social spending, not much has changed, despite diplomatic developments and a tumultuous summer

The following are highlights from the September 2011 “Peace Index,”  a long-running monthly index of peace and conflict related topics, mixed with other topical questions.  The survey was run by phone from 2-3 October, 2011, among a representative sample of 600 Israeli adults.

Israeli-Palestinian conflictRemarkably stable dynamics. Despite a month that was supposed to be momentous, the central tenet of Israeli public opinion regarding the conflict remains exactly as it has been for years now: The wide majority of Israelis – three-quarters –  supports negotiations, but just 30% believe talks have any hope of bringing peace.

This general approach seems to have become a sort of comfort zone for Israelis: I’ve often wondered if they support negotiations precisely because they know they won’t bring an agreement that will involve painful compromises.

Social Protest: The parallel universe of Arabs and Jews in Israel. The Israeli Jewish public remains completely fired up by the need to continue the social protests – 80% of the Jews say it would be justified to continue. However, among the Arab respondents, just 60% feel this way. Why? The next question offers one explanation, in painful terms: while 83% of Jews believe the protest was successful at putting social justice issues on the agenda in Israel – only 41% of Arabs think so.

Despite the fact that this survey would have only a small sample of Arabs, I’m not at all surprised by the results. Although many held out wide hope for newfound solidarity between the communities in Israel – or at least the start of a process – apparently the remaining 60% of Arabs felt very left out or else cynical – they probably worried that it would be very easy to leave Arabs out of the issues and the proposed solutions, which might even come at their expense.

Despite the rallying cry of the protests, repeated like a mantra, that Israelis wants a change in priorities, it seems that Arab citizens are the ones who are truly prepared to challenge the status quo: while half of Israeli Jews support cutting the defense budget to fund social programs, a full 80% of Arabs back this move.

So despite the tumult of the summer, the Jewish Israeli respondents, judging from this survey, are not genuinely prepared for deep and bold changes to our political or social identity. That makes their activism and protests look somewhat shallow, and I sure hope it will change. At present, the forces of change seem to lie with the Arabs of Israel – but given their own sense of alienation and general rejection by Israeli society, will they take up the gauntlet either on social issues or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Will anyone listen?