Low Expectations for Hard Bigotry in Israel

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I just got an e-mail from an Israeli PR firm that proclaimed, in bold, caps-lock, underlined type: "Israelis More Tolerant of Islam Than Swiss."

The release, datelined Jerusalem, came on behalf of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a coalition created by New York Rabbi Marc Schneier and media mogul Russell Simmons to form good black-Jewish relations and also reach out to Muslims. Seems like a good enough organization with good enough aims.

But this latest overture seems a bit overblown. The poll, conducted in the wake of a November vote in Switzerland for banning minaret construction, found that a 43 percent plurality of Israelis oppose hypothetical legislation banning minarets in Israel, which 29 percent of respondents supported. Those numbers don’t seem so hot to me. One would expect a tolerant populace could at least muster a slim majority to oppose such a goal. (I wonder what the numbers would look like in more multicultural European countries or the U.S.)

That 57 percent of Swiss voters supported the legislation doesn’t mean that having 43 percent opposition is such a great number. It’s a bit silly to brag about clearing a bar that was set so extremely low by the Swiss.

What struck me is that this is something of the opposite public relations expected by Juan Cole on his Informed Comment blog. At the time of the Swiss vote, Cole wrote that he anticipated a slew of Islamophobes to support banning minarets by making comparisons to the straw-man intolerance of the Muslim world. His point is rather the same as I’m making here: that the comparisons shouldn’t exactly make you proud.

Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches. Does Switzerland really want to be like Saudi Arabia?


The other Wahhabi state besides Saudi Arabia, Qatar, has allowed the building of Christian churches. But they are not allowed to have steeples or bells. This policy is a mirror image to that of the Swiss. So Switzerland, after centuries of striving for civilization and enlightenment, has just about reached the same level of tolerance as that exhibited by a small Gulf Wahhabi country, the people of which were mostly Bedouins only a hundred years ago.

So now I guess we have to ask Israel: Do you really want to be held to the basement-level standard of tolerance set by Switzerland?

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief. This post originally appeared on LobeLog. The full press release is below the fold.


Revealing Opinion Poll Concludes:



Oppose “Swiss-style” Legislation that Would Ban Construction of Minarets on Mosques in Israel

National Religious and Ultra-Orthodox are Strongest Opponents of Banning Minaret Construction

(Jerusalem) – A survey conducted in recent days by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) through KEEVOON Research found that 43% of Israelis would oppose legislation banning the construction of minarets on Mosques built in Israel while 28% would support a ban, with 29% undecided. In November 2009, 57.5% of voters in Switzerland approved a referendum banning the construction of minarets on Mosques in their country. The strongest opposition to banning minarets came from National Religious Israelis. 72% of them opposed possible legislation in Israel of whom 55% defined themselves as “strongly" opposed. Among Ultra-Orthodox (Hareidi) opposition was 53%, compared to 42% of secular Israelis, and 36% of traditional Israelis. Only 16% of the National Religious would support banning minarets compared to 21% of Ultra-Orthodox, 31% of traditional Jews and 29% of secular Jews. “When it comes to freedom of religion Israelis are apparently much more tolerant that their Swiss counterparts," said Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of the US-based FFEU, "There is a definite correlation between religious observance and tolerance towards Islam. Israelis seem to put politics aside as opposition to banning minarets actually increases as we move further to the right on the political spectrum. The fact that less than one-third of all Israelis support banning minarets indicates that from the Israeli point of view, there is room for respectful coexistence between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs when it is based on religion and not politics.” Politically the results were very interesting and corroborated the other demographic information. 92% of National Union (Ichud Leumi) voters oppose banning minaret construction of which 65% defined themselves as “strongly" opposed. Following them were voters from United Torah Judaism (Yahadut HaTorah/Agudah Israel) with 68% opposing legislation, 66% of Meretz voters, 64% of Yisrael Beiteinu voters, 55% of Shas voters, and 54% of Jewish Home (NRP) voters. Voters from the 3 main parties, Labour, Kadima and Likud opposed the measure by 43%, 42%, and 41% respectively, according to KEEVOON director Mitchell Barak. When looking at support for legislation to ban minarets, voters from the Likud expressed the strongest support with 41% followed by Yisrael Beitenu voters with 36%, Kadima voters with 31%, Labour voters with 27%, UTJ voters with 22%, Jewish Home and Shas voters with 20%, and National Union voters with only 8%. Gender- and age-based trends were also found. Men expressed support by a margin of 34% versus 22% of women. 38% of people aged 45-54, and 34% of 18-24 year olds, 33% of people aged 55-64 support banning minaret construction compared with only 18% of 35-44 year olds, 21% of 25-34 year olds, and 26% of people 65 and over. The opposition to legislation based on gender and age was very close to the total of 43%. Respondents were also asked if the Swiss legislation changed their opinion of Switzerland. 37% responded that it didn’t change their view, while 25% said they had a more positive view as a result, and 19% had a more negative view.

The telephone survey was conducted by KEEVOON Research in conjunction with Mutagim. 500 Jewish Israelis were interviewed December 30-31, 2009 and on January 3, 2010. The margin of error is + / – 4.5% . # # #

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, under the leadership of Rabbi Marc Schneier, President, and Russell Simmons, Chairman, is a national US non-profit organization dedicated to promoting racial harmony and strengthening inter-group relations. The Foundation, established in 1989, is based in New York City.

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