Low Expectations for Hard Bigotry in Israel

on 14 Comments

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.

14 Responses

  1. Avi
    January 12, 2010, 8:03 pm

    The US State Department published a report in 2009 about religious freedom in Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

    Here is that report:

    link to state.gov

  2. William Burns
    January 12, 2010, 8:26 pm

    Looks like yet another “survey” of “Israelis” that didn’t bother to interview any Palestinian citizens of Israel.

  3. Rehmat
    January 12, 2010, 8:30 pm

    Well in some way he could be right. For example, Talmud doesn’t curse the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as it does Jesus and his mother Mary. Orthodox Jews are not commanded to spit on Mullah’s face as they’re commanded to spit on priests and the Cross.

    However, the major difference between Muslims in Israel and Switzerland is – In Israel the Jews are living on land stolen from Muslims and Christian Palestinians and they’re treated like third-class citizens.- while Muslims in Switzerland are immigrants but have almost equal citizen right with the Swiss.

    When it comes to tolerance – the Israeli Jews should be ashamed of their lack of gratitude toward Muslims whose ancestors treated them as human-beings and gave them social status equal to Muslim elites – as compared to the way most of them were mistreated and expelled from their European homelands.

    I don’t think Swiss government would have insulted a Muslim ambassador as Israeli deputy FM Danny Ayalon (wanted by British court) did to Turkish ambassador the other day.

    link to rehmat1.wordpress.com

  4. spuxx
    January 12, 2010, 8:39 pm

    “Israelis More Tolerant of Arabs Than Swiss” is the headline I’m waiting for.

  5. syvanen
    January 12, 2010, 10:10 pm

    From the press release:

    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 [and it should be added not their property].”

    This has been something that has always struck me about Israeli policy towards the previous inhabitants; they are relatively respectful of the prior Christian and Moslem institutions at the same time they discriminate against the people following those faiths. I don’t really understand why. It is interesting that this tolerance for Islamic symbols is strongest among the Orthodox Jews. We should view this as a positive. Perhaps it can be built into a sensitivity that could lead to Israelis granting civil rights to their fellow Palestinian citizens.

    • James Bradley
      January 12, 2010, 11:07 pm

      It mirrors the way that Americans look upon Native Americans in some ways.

      We LOVE Native American Culture, or what we believe are Native American values. Our popular culture often praises Native American culture and there are movements to end the celebration of Columbus day etc.

      BUT when Native Americans stood in the way of “Manifest Destiny” the Native Americans were killed in large numbers, forced onto reservations, and had their way of life destroyed and humiliated as “non civilized.”

      Now that Native Americans have virtually no chance of reversing Manifest Destiny, we praise them and even praise their now destroyed culture. We honor their sacred grounds so long as they don’t stand in the way of industrialization, gentrification, or commercialization.

      Its only because those Native American institutions of the past no longer pose any sort of threat to the United States.

      However, in Israel, many Mosques and Churches were destroyed or desecrated for various reasons, and many ancient mosques and churches are not allowed to be repaired. Its largely in the old city of Jerusalem that you find many ancient structures still standing, and this most likely due to the shit storm that Israel would cause if it dared to destroy any ancient relic in the holy land.

      • syvanen
        January 12, 2010, 11:18 pm

        James you do give this a cynical twist, but unfortunately it sounds true. I prefer a more optimistic reading however.

      • yonira
        January 13, 2010, 1:55 am

        Ever talked to a Native America before? or been to a tribal function? To say their culture is destroyed is a really disgusting thing to say. The Native America girl I am dating right now can attested for their culture which isn’t destroyed. Maybe in the sheltered world you live in James Bradley, but again reality has escaped you.

      • James Bradley
        January 13, 2010, 2:19 am

        Yonira don’t try to gain morality points by twisting what I said, you clearly know what I meant.

        But for the sake of clarity I will clarify that Native American culture has survived in many ways.

        However, that does not mean that traditional ways of Native American life have been maintained. The viability of maintaining the traditional ways of life cherished by Native Americans in the past have been hindered severely by the policies of the United States and the massive ethnic cleansing, colonization, and deportations enforced upon the indigenous population of this country.

        Native Americans that survived the genocide were forced to live on reservations (ghettos) or accept assimilation.

        And what do you mean by sheltered world I live in? You don’t even know me, nor know what kind of world I live in. Also, when has reality escaped me? Care to elaborate?

      • Chaos4700
        January 13, 2010, 8:04 am

        Really? Because the part of my family that’s Native American would tend to disagree. Maybe if you actually engaged her on an intellectual level, yonira, instead of merely snogging her and trying to get her drunk, you might learn more about the status of Native American culture in American society.

  6. Shmuel
    January 13, 2010, 3:50 am

    The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding seems about as interested in “ethnic understanding” (whatever that means) as The Museum of Tolerance is interested in tolerance. Don’t these word launderers ever get tired?

    • Chaos4700
      January 13, 2010, 8:02 am

      Apparently not. It’s even become a cottage industry of sorts. Look at what happens whenever Witty is confronted about justice — or as he likes to call it, “justice.”

      It’s all about “catapultin’ the propaganda,” as it were.

  7. Richard Parker
    January 13, 2010, 7:21 am

    I live amongst a people (Filipinos) whose native culture has been totally destroyed by 400 years of Spanish, and 5 0 years of American colonisation.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a minaret on a local mosque (there is a ‘long war’ against Muslims in the South). I’m not sure if this means they’ve been totally suppressed, or not.
    And perhaps this is the attitude of the Swiss; they clearly don’t want their landscapes to be dominated by a religious minority’s constructions. I’m not so sure this is unreasonable.
    After all, in the heart of Islam, Saudi Arabia, even the white cross symbol of Swiss Airlines is viciously attacked.

    • Chaos4700
      January 13, 2010, 8:17 am

      Yeah, but Saudi Arabia is A) the exception to the rule, and you should ask Muslims what they generally think of the Saudi Arabian government and how unsuited it is to be in control of Muslim holy sites, and B) Saudi Arabia is a staunch ally of Western interests.

      Doesn’t anyone notice how all of these “Middle Eastern threats” are almost invariably bought and sold by the United States? Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, without whose oil wealth the United States wouldn’t be able to sustain its wasteful energy usage rates; his crime network, al-Qaeda, was sheltered by the Taliban, who we installed into power with our proxy war against the Soviets; Saddam Hussein used to be our pet dictator before he decided to topple the royal dictators of Kuwait, which was really only a problem because the US and Israel doesn’t want anyone but them getting into the conquest by force of arms racket.

      In the rest of the Middle East — Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq (before we were there) — there is religious tolerance of Christians and building churches is not a problem. Even in Iran, which is actually hostile to Christianity (which thanks to the actions and statements of prominent people in the US over the decades is now perceived as a hostile invasive threat), established minorities like Jews and Zoroastrans are protected.

      Out of curiosity, Richard, how has Christianity influenced Filipino culture via colonialism? I think therein lies the answer.

Leave a Reply