Facts behind a skewed survey

On October 23 Ha’aretz published a sensational headline, supported by a breathtaking editorial. It read: “Survey: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel.” The editorial, penned by the paper’s well-known, empty rhetorician (and editorial board member) Gideon Levy, did not mince its words. “Most of the Jewish public in Israel (it declared) supports the establishment of an apartheid regime in Israel if it formally annexes the West Bank.”

Levy explained that the survey — conducted under the auspices of a polling organisation called “Dialog” — “exposes anti-Arab, ultra-nationalist views espoused by a majority of Israeli Jews”. Levy also offered an op-ed entitled: “Apartheid without shame or guilt: that’s the way we are”. He wrote: “We’re racists, the Israelis are saying, we practise apartheid and we even want to live in an apartheid state. Yes, this is Israel… It’s good to live in this country, most Israelis say, not despite its racism, but perhaps because of it.”

For the record, if the survey had really supported these shocking conclusions I would agree with every one of Levy’s strictures. But in fact it supported nothing of the kind.

The survey consisted of 17 questions that were put to a sample of 503 individuals, apparently distinguished as secular, traditional, religious, ultra-Orthodox and Russian. That’s 503 respondents in a total Israeli Jewish population of some 5.7 million — a proportion so minute that its size alone, in relation to the sociological complexity of the overall sample, must cast some doubt on the authenticity of findings derived from it.

Two thirds believed separate roads were ‘not good’

Why “Russians” should be separated out from secularists, traditionalists and so on is also puzzling to say the least. But leaving these technical caveats aside, I would be astonished if we did not come across some Jewish citizens of Israel who are genuinely racist: Jews are just like everyone else, only more so. However, if we dig into the actual findings, we see that they simply do not support Gideon Levy’s conclusions.

According to Levy, a third of Israeli Jews would support a law prohibiting Israeli Arabs from voting in Knesset elections, 42 per cent object to living in the same buildings as Arabs, and a similar percentage don’t want their schoolchildren to be in classes alongside Arab youngsters. But any sensible reading of the findings (which you can access in Hebrew, at scribd.com) suggests a quite different picture: that almost 50 per cent of respondents would have no objection to their children being in the same class as Arabs and that 53 per cent would not object to living in the same building as Arabs. The survey further indicates that a majority of respondents (59 per cent) would not support any curtailment of the voting rights of Israeli Arabs; this proportion includes 77 per cent of secularists and 44 per cent of the religious. Referring to another question, Levy alleged that a majority wanted separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank. But what was actually found was that 67 per cent believed that separate roads were “not good”.

None of this validates even remotely the protestations of Levy and his paper that “most Israeli Jews support apartheid regime in Israel”. Yes, 69 per cent said they would oppose the Knesset voting rights for West Bank Arabs. But the question was predicated on the hypothesis that Israel would annex the West Bank in its entirety. In fact, only 38 per cent said that they favoured annexation, and even then they favoured annexation only of territories in which Jewish settlements are located — not the whole of the West Bank. And we must bear in mind that the Jewish settlements on the West Bank amount to less than 10 per cent of the total land area of the region.

Around the world, the sensationalised conclusions of Ha’aretz and Gideon Levy were pounced upon by the many detractors of the Jewish state. The fact is, these conclusions are simply not borne out by the evidence. It’s true that 59 per cent of respondents supported preferential treatment for Jews applying for jobs in Israeli government departments. But isn’t this precisely the sort of affirmative action that one finds in many countries, including (unless I am much mistaken) present-day South Africa?

Last updated: 12:50pm, November 2 2012