Deep gulfs shown among Israeli Jews and Arabs in new survey

(Photo: © Peter Kenny / Ecumenical News)Two key symbols of Judaism, the Western Wall, and for Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, stand side by side in Jerusalem as seen on Feb. 11, 2016.

A major new survey by Pew Research Center has found deep divisions in Israeli society between Israeli Jews and the country's Arab minority, but also among the religious subgroups that make up Israeli Jewry.

Nearly 70 years after the establishment of the modern State of Israel, its Jewish population remains behind the idea that Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people and a necessary refuge from rising anti-Semitism around the globe.

Nearly half of Jewish Israelis support the explusion of  Arabs from their country, the poll finds as it underscores Israel's glaring divisions along religious, ethnic and political lines in the survey titleld, "Israel's religiously divided society.".

Almost eight-in-ten Israeli Arabs (79 percent) say there is a lot of discrimination in Israeli society against Muslims, who are by far the biggest of the religious minorities.

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On this issue, Jews take the opposite view; the vast majority (74 percent) say they do not see much discrimination against Muslims in Israel.

ISRAEL'S ARAB MINORITY

At the same time, Jewish public opinion is divided on whether Israel can serve as a homeland for Jews while also accommodating the country's Arab minority.

Nearly half of Israeli Jews say Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, including roughly one-in-five Jewish adults who strongly agree with this position.

Pew Research Center says the survey is its first comprehensive study of religion in Israel. However data collected through the Israeli census, the Israeli Social Survey, the Guttman Center for Surveys and Pew Research Center's previous polls in Israel suggest that the Israeli religious landscape has been changing over time in at least three important ways.

• The share of Jews in the total population has been declining, while the share of Muslims in the population gradually has been rising.

• Among Jews, the share who are Orthodox has been slowly rising, largely as a result of high fertility rates among Haredim.

• Surveys conducted over time indicate a modest decline in recent years in the share of Israeli Jews who report moderate levels of religious observance. The reported decline of what might be called the "religious middle" suggests that Israeli society may be becoming more religiously polarized.

In 1949, shortly after the establishment of the state, the first Israeli census found that 86 percent of the total population was Jewish, 9 percent was Muslim, 3 percent was Christian, and 1 percent was Druze.

As of 2014, the Muslim proportion of the population has doubled to 18 percent, while the Jewish proportion has declined 11 percentage points, to 75 percent.

The Christian share of Israel's population also has declined, falling from 3 percent to 2 percent, while Druze have risen from 1 percent to 2 percent.

Nearly all Israeli Jews identify with one of four categories: Haredi (commonly translated as "ultra-Orthodox"), Dati ("religious"), Masorti ("traditional") or Hiloni ("secular"), says the survey.

"Although they live in the same small country and share many traditions, highly religious and secular Jews inhabit largely separate social worlds, with relatively few close friends and little intermarriage outside their own groups.

"In fact, the survey finds that secular Jews in Israel are more uncomfortable with the notion that a child of theirs might someday marry an ultra-Orthodox Jew than they are with the prospect of their child marrying a Christian."

The survey of religion in Israel was carried out between October 2014 and May 2015 before a recent surge in violence in Israeli and Palestinian areas and between Arabs and Jews.

It was conducted through face-to-face interviews in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian among 5,601 Israeli adults (ages 18 and older).

The survey uses the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics' definition of the Israeli population, which includes Jews living in the West Bank as well as Arab residents of East Jerusalem.

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