Questions Raised About Recent Pew Poll of Israelis

A recently published Pew Research poll of religion in Israel has come under growing criticism for a controversial question that has generated headlines.

According to the poll, 48 percent of Israeli Jews agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” But Shmuel Rosner of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles raised concerns over the question’s lack of specificity.

Pew did not ask about any specific suggestion or plan for how to transfer Arabs out of Israel – there is no such plan. It also did not elaborate on specifics when it asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement: “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” Does that mean all Arabs? Some Arabs? Those who make trouble? With compensation? Without compensation? Forcefully? Under what circumstances? To where? Will there be a Palestinian state involved?

While Rosner stated that he found the percentage of those responding positively to the question “disturbing,” he also observed that it “is the kind of question I would not answer if it were posed to me in a survey.”

Nathan Jeffay, writing in London’s Jewish Chronicle, was harsher in his assessment of the questioning.

Did [those questioned] respond in relation to all Arabs, as one would gather from the way results have been presented? Or were they thinking about specific cases, such as Arabs who sympathise with terror or — as per the policy that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently having checked by state lawyers — to move the families of terrorists who carry out attacks out of Israel?

Jeffay pointed out that Israel Prize-winning sociologist Sammy Smooha of Haifa University, who regularly surveys Jewish attitudes towards Arabs and Arab attitudes towards Jews, criticized the Pew question as “misleading and vague.” Smooha told Haaretz that “although it’s clear that support for expulsion and transfer should be condemned, the wording of the question is vague…the way the question is presented, the statement ‘to expel Arabs from Israel’ is noncommittal and even easy to agree with.”

Israelis would likely understand the word for transfer (“haavara”) not as referring to physical relocation, Jeffay wrote, but to transferring political responsibility of geographic areas to a Palestinian state through land swaps as part of a peace agreement.

Camil Fuchs, a leading Israeli pollster, told Jeffay that Pew committed the polling sin of “double barreling,” asking a question about two separate issues together: in this case, physical expulsion and border swaps. “I don’t presume that all or a great many of the people who answered ‘yes’ want to move all the Arabs,” Fuchs said.

Jeffay pointed out that elsewhere in the survey, “76 per cent of the Israeli Jews surveyed said they saw a Jewish state as compatible with democracy, but in cases where democratic principles and Jewish law clash, with 62 per cent said the former should take priority over the latter, while 24 per cent thought Hebrew law should take precedence.”

The poll was taken over a period ranging from October 2014 to July 2015. The beginning of the poll took place just two months after the end of Operation Protective Edge, the war Israel fought against Hamas. During the course of the war, nearly all of Israel was in the range of rockets from Gaza.

[Photo:  Esther Rubyan / Flash90 ]