Israel has been a Jewish-majority country since its founding in 1948, and its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities – including some groups within the Jewish community – has persisted as a hotly debated topic throughout the nation’s history.
That debate continues today. For example, the issue recently arose when Moshe Yaalon resigned as Israel’s defense minister. Yaalon said he had “fought with all my might against phenomena of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society that threaten its fortitude,” but had lost faith in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to The New York Times.
And yet most Israeli Jews do not believe that intolerance is a major problem in Israel, even when it comes to their frequently tense relations with the country’s Arab population. For example, only about one-in-five Israeli Jews (21%) say there is a lot of discrimination in Israeli society against Muslims, who make up the vast majority of Israeli Arabs.
By contrast, roughly four-in-five Israeli Arabs (79%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of religion in Israel.
Arabs also are more likely than Jews to perceive Israeli society as discriminatory toward a variety of other social and demographic groups. For instance, about a third of Israeli Arabs (34%) say there is a lot of discrimination against gay men and lesbians in Israel, compared with 20% of Jews who say the same. And four-in-ten Arabs (versus a quarter of Jews) say there is a lot of discrimination against women.
Indeed, Israeli Arabs are more likely than Jews even to say there is a lot of discrimination against secular (Hiloni) Jews (21% vs. 9%), Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent (33% vs. 21%) and Ethiopian Jews (44% vs. 36%) in Israeli society.
Israeli Jews are far more likely to perceive anti-Semitism around the world than discrimination in their own country. Virtually all say anti-Semitism is very common (64%) or somewhat common (35%) around the world, and three-quarters (76%) say it is not only common but increasing. The perception of rising anti-Semitism abroad is coupled with about eight-in-ten Israeli Jews (79%) saying Jews deserve preferential treatment in Israel.
The survey also asked non-Jews in Israel whether they have faced specific instances of discrimination due to their religious identity within the past year, including being prevented from traveling, being stopped and questioned by security forces, being physically attacked and questioned or suffering property damage. Most Muslims in Israel (63%) say they have not personally faced one of these types of discrimination in the past 12 months. But the other 37% say they have experienced at least one of these things recently.
At the same time, there are some positive interactions, too. About a quarter of Israeli Muslims (26%) say a Jewish person has expressed sympathy toward them because of their religious identity within the past year.