Haifa University’s Professor Sammy Smooha has researched ethnic relations in Israeli society and particularly Arab-Jewish relations, since the 1970s. Over the years he has collected a vast amount of data from on-going polls and face-to-face interviews with thousands of Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens. This data is published every few years as the “Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel”. In 2008 Professor Smooha was awarded the Israel Prize for Sociology for his important contribution towards the understanding of Israeli society.
This week we were honoured to host a briefing by Professor Smooha, in partnership with the UK Friends of Haifa University and the New Israel Fund. The talk presented an overview of three decades of research into Israeli society and the attitudinal changes that have occurred between Jews and Arabs. Smooha’s main thesis was that despite common assumptions, the views of Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel are becoming similar and there has been an increase over time in each side’s willingness to accept the other.
The data also reveals that Arab citizens of Israel are going through a process of what Professor Smooha termed “Israelization”. In addition to regarding democratic tools as a mechanism for conflict management, more Arab citizens see democratic processes as a mean to improve their position in society. He points out that Arab society in Israel is going through a process of integration without assimilation – there is a long-term increase in the numbers of Arab citizens participating in the workforce, learning Hebrew in addition to Arabic, and studying in higher education institutions, nevertheless, most Arab citizens live in separate municipalities from Jewish citizens.
The Jewish Israeli attitude to Arab citizens is also changing, with the majority of Jews in Israel accepting of the existence of an Arab minority, and prepared to recognise Arab citizens’ collective rights, not just individual rights.
To read more about Professor Smooha’s findings and thesis, click here.