by Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler and Eran Halperin
Scholars investigating the extreme right wing underscore the centrality of fear and hate (xenophobia) of foreigners or immigrants as one of the core elements in identifying one’s self with an extreme right ideology. Moreover, xenophobia in general and anti-immigrant attitudes in particular have been found to be key factors in explaining support for extreme right-wing parties in Europe (Lubbers and Scheepers, 2000, 2001; Lubbers, Gijsberts and Scheepers, 2004). Furthermore, the most comprehensive classification of extreme right-wing ideological features found xenophobia to be one of the five ideological components common enough to be cited by at least half of the authors in the field (Mudde, 1995).
In the attempt to fight against xenophobia, hate and discrimination, the Israeli state’s Declaration of Independence emphasizes the intention to establish a society free of hatred—a society where all citizens enjoy equal rights. Yet, 57 years after its establishment, the country is still marked by hatred towards distinct minority groups, particularly the Arabs, who are hated especially in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (Yishai & Pedahzur, 1999). Similar to the European arena, xenophobia was also found to be a major factor in the ideology of extreme right-wing political parties in Israel (Pedahzur & Perliger, 2004; Sprinzak, 1991). However, given the prolonged conflict with the Arab world, it seems that xenophobic attitudes and views towards Arabs have long been pervasive in Israeli culture, and not only among right-wing extremists. In addition, the extreme right-wing label in Israel is applied exclusively within the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and mainly with respect to the question of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The extremist label is assigned to parties that advocate particularly hawkish positions in regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict and endorse the annexation of territories occupied after the Six Day War (Peled, 1990).
We would like to empirically examine the claim that Arab-phobia (xenophobia towards Arabs), despite its wide prevalence among Jews in Israel, can still be asserted to be a core factor in explaining extreme-right identification. In order to emphasize the role played by Arab-phobia in identification with extreme right ideology it should be analyzed vis-à-vis a close political family – the moderate right. A subsequent question therefore is whether Arab-phobic1 attitudes can be seen as a factor that distinguishes between the extreme right wing (ERW) and the moderate right wing (MR) in Israel. We shall answer this question by examining the extent of Arab-phobia in contemporary Israel, and compare Arab-phobic attitudes of citizens who identify themselves on the extreme right of the political spectrum with those of citizens who identify themselves on the moderate right of the political spectrum. In order to make this comparison, we compiled data from four surveys, with a total number of 4105 participants, throughout the four years of the Intifada (from September 2001 till May 2005).
Arab-Phobia – Conceptual Framework
Negative perceptions and attitudes towards minorities have been known for many years to be one of the main challenges facing the majority of democratic societies (Sullivan & Transue, 1999). As for the Israeli-Arab conflict, it wouldn’t be too novel an idea to claim that the role of mutual and well-rooted negative attitudes and perceptions regarding members of the out-group may have enormous implications on the ability to strive towards potential solutions to the conflict (Bar-Tal & Teichman, 2005).
Conceptually speaking, the term xenophobia reflects an approach that views attitudes and behavior towards out-groups as mainly deriving from the challenges posed by out-groups to in-group values, identity, culture and even socio-economic status (e.g., Lubbers & Scheepers, 2001; Mudde, 1995; Watts, 1996). Hence, we submit that xenophobia is a “negative attitude toward, or fear of, individuals or groups of individuals that are in some sense different (real or imagined) from oneself or the group to which one belongs” (Hjerm, 1998, p. 341). In adaptation to the terminology of the internal situation in Israel, and more specifically to the attitudes of the majority group of Jews towards the minority group of Arabs, we shall define the phenomenon as “Arab-phobia”, meaning the xenophobia of Israeli Jews toward Arabs within Israel (Palestinian citizens of Israel).
The term Arab-phobia seems to have some fundamental qualitative advantages from the perspective of the current analysis. First, due to its competitive basis (out-group vs. in-group), it is very suitable to a situation where there is a genuine conflict of interests, as the one experienced by both Jews and Arabs in the last two centuries. Second, it is a most parsimonious and concise concept that unifies different cognitive and psychological aspects and in this fashion accurately reflects the generalized negative relation of the members of one group towards another. We claim that the integration of several different components, i.e., perceptions of threat, social distance, and political/social exclusionism, into one globalized concept may be the best reflection of a global and steady negative attitude toward minority group members. In this sense, it would be of special interest to figure out whether the concept of Arab-phobia is capable of distinguishing between moderate right-wing identification and extreme right-wing identification in Israel.
Data: Public opinion data was collected over a period of four years as a part of the “Extremism Project” of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa. Data consisted of four similar (but not identical) large-scale telephone surveys. Each survey addressed a representative sampling of the Israeli adult population. Survey sizes were: n=1008 in September 2001; n=1035 in February 2003, n=1016 in May 2004; n=1046 in May 2005. For the purposes of the current study, only responses of Jewish participants, who comprised approximately 80 percent of each sample, were taken into account.
Measures: The global concept of Arab-phobia was operationally examined according to the following three well-established scales: 1. Threat perception was measured by the “national perceived threat scale,” which is commonly used in “political tolerance” studies in Israel (Sagiv-Shiphter & Shamir, 2002). It consists of three items and yielded an Alpha Cronbach2 of .86-.90. 2. Social distance was measured by the classic “social distance scale” (Bogardus, 1959), which was previously adapted and validated in Israel (Pedahzur & Yishai, 1999). It consists of four items and yielded an Alpha Cronbach of .80-.84. 3. Exclusionism: This variable was measured according to Scheepers and his colleagues’ (2002) scale for “ethnic exclusionism” that was previously tested mainly in European countries. The scale consists of four items and yielded an Alpha Cronbach of .77-.78).
In addition to the above eleven questions measuring Arab-phobia, participants were asked to fill out a basic socio-demographic questionnaire. For the specific goals of this study, participants were also asked to choose the most suitable subjective definition of their political stance. The five options were as follows (in parentheses are the percentages of participants who chose each answer after totaling all four surveys): 1. extreme left (1.79%). 2. left (22.28%). 3. center (36.06%). 4. right (35.39%). 5. extreme right (4.48%).
Similarity and differences in support for Arab-phobic attitudes among the extreme right wing and moderate right wing
Table 1: Means (SD) of support for Arab-phobia indexes,
September 2001-May 2005
Note: Threat perception attitudes and exclusionism attitudes were not measured in the 2001 survey. All results refer to Jewish Israeli adults
Looking at the whole picture, Table 1 demonstrates the scope of Arab-phobia among Israeli Jews in general. We can see that, despite enormous changes in the objective environmental situation during four years of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the three measurements display a relatively high level of stability over time. Throughout the whole period, Israeli Jews presented high levels on all three components of Arab-phobia. Meaning, Israeli Jews perceived Arabs as a huge threat, displayed high levels of social avoidance and eventually supported active political acts against them. These findings illustrate that, as expected, Arab-phobia is well rooted within Jewish society in Israel. In the following stage, we used variance analysis to examine the differences between the two groups of respondents (RWE versus MR) in regard to each of these indexes.
Table 2: Means, standard deviations, and f-tests of Arab-phobia indexes according to the two groups of identification (extreme right-wing and moderate right-wing)
p<.05*, p<.01**, p<.001***
Note: Threat perception attitudes and exclusionism attitudes were not measured in the 2001 survey. All results refer to Jewish Israeli adults.
As seen in Table 2, significant differences were found between the two groups in terms of all measurements in the expected direction. The strongest and most significant differences were found in the exclusionism index. Although both groups demonstrate high levels of support for active political acts against Arabs, the extreme right wing exhibit much higher levels of support. In contrast, the lowest significant difference was found in the threat perception index. These findings reinforce the significance of Arab-phobia in general, and the exclusionism measurement in particular, in the distinction made between identification with extreme right versus identification with the moderate right in Israel.
Interesting findings were also discovered in the evaluation of results relating to single statements of Arab-phobia. First, there was a broad consensus among Israeli Jews—regardless of their political views or identification—in reference to two statements (at least 86% of agreement): “To what extent would you not agree to a member of your family having a romantic relationship with an Arab?” (Social Distance measurement). This indicates that the disinclination towards a romantic relation with an Arab is a feeling shared by most Israeli Jews, regardless of their political identification. In the same manner, regarding the statement, “Israeli Arabs endanger the Jewish character of the State of Israel”, we found that Israeli Jews in general perceived Israeli Arabs as a threat to the Jewish character of the State. At no point did Jewish support for this item decline below 54 percent. However, considerable differences between extreme right and moderate right were found in reference to the other two statements of perceived threat (i.e., threat to democracy and threat to state security).
A second interesting set of findings was discovered when drawing a comparison between the results regarding certain statements within the exclusionism scale. Differences between ERW and MR exclusionary attitudes were found to be significant, with the exception of the statement dealing with non-loyal Arabs (“Arabs who are not loyal to the State should have their citizenship revoked”). It seems that the general Jewish public in Israel supports revoking the citizenships of Arabs who are not loyal to the State (83 percent in each of the surveys). However, significant differences between ERW and MR on other exclusion statements reveal that while the moderate right is willing to exclude Arabs mainly on the basis of their loyalty, the extreme right wing is inclined to do so just because they are Arabs with no necessary relation to their level of loyalty.
Arab-phobia is undoubtedly a common phenomenon among all segments of the Israeli Jewish public, but as demonstrated in this study, it is also an important factor which helps to distinguish between moderate rightists and extreme ones. As far as we know, this is the first empirical study to compare Arab-phobic attitudes in Israel of people who identify with the ERW and those who identify with the MR. In general, we found that right-wing extremists tend to feel more threatened by Arabs, try hard to avoid social relations with them and eventually are much more supportive of exclusionary practices against them than people who identify themselves as moderate rightist.
Looking more closely at the comparisons within each and every measurement adds more depth to the picture. While the differences between the ERW and MR in their perceptions of threat are significant but low, the differences in the measurement of exclusionary attitudes are much higher. Therefore, we claim that the main issue that defines right-wing extremism in the domain of attitudes towards Arabs is the predisposition to actively support discriminatory acts against them. Hence, it would be correct to argue that while the perception of threat is a feeling that is widely shared by most of Israeli society, its transformation into an operational “will to act” is still a phenomenon that resides in one marginal group—the extreme right.
Furthermore, it appears that while both the ERW and MR share an instrumental ideology regarding the question (and future) of the occupied territories, Arab-phobia constitutes one of the core differences between these two groups. Arab-phobia is well rooted among the ERW in Israel, regardless of the actual behavior or attitudes of Israeli Arabs (for example, whether they are loyal to the State or not, as demonstrated earlier). Hence, identification with the ERW relies not only on hawkish political beliefs but on hate, xenophobia and intolerance towards Arabs as well. In our view, this fact is particularly problematic in the struggle against extremism in Israeli society and politics. In contrast to the relatively flexible and changeable political context, Arab-phobic attitudes are more ingrained and enduring.
In sum, in order to truly understand and cope with the phenomenon of the extreme right wing in Israel, it is not enough to account for instrumental territorial-ideological factors, but it is also necessary to take into consideration the social-emotional perspective, mainly, Arab-phobic sentiments. With this in mind, we may carefully say that extreme right leaders, including Rabbi Meir Kahane who was expelled from the legitimate borders of the Israeli political system, succeeded in planting seeds of hate and intolerance in Jewish society that continue to flourish over the years.
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