Successive Israeli governments since 1948 are responsible for the institutionalised discrimination against Palestinians.
Roughly one of every two Israeli Jews wants Palestinian citizens expelled or transferred from the country, according to a new poll.
The Washington-based Pew Research centre, a non-partisan think-tank which carried out face-to-face interviews with 5,601 adults from October 2014 through May 2015, asked whether “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel”.
Half of the Jewish respondents strongly agreed or agreed with that statement, with approximately the same numbers opposing the notion.
The results have been met with alarm by politicians and observers alike, with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin calling the poll a “wake-up call for society” as he asked for “soul searching and moral reflection” over some of its disturbing findings.
“We are not talking about Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza here,” Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, told Al Jazeera.
“We are talking about citizens who constitute 20 percent of the population. This is astonishing. This not only has ramifications on the nature of the state of Israel and future of its Palestinian citizens, but it even tells you about the notion of Jewishness versus democracy.”
The first in-depth study of religion in Israel, which was released on Tuesday, also found that overwhelming majorities among both West Bank settlers (85 percent) and other Israeli Jews (79 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that Jews deserve preferential treatment in Israel.
“That’s remarkable when you are thinking in terms of democracy,” Telhami, who is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said.
“Seeing Arabs as a demographic problem is not only wrong because it privileges Jewishness over democracy, but it also diverts from the fact that Israel has an obligation to end the occupation.”
The survey, which tackled an array of social, political and religious issues and was conducted in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic, showed deep divisions within Israeli society – not only between its Jewish and Palestinian citizens, but also among Jews themselves.
Results also differed based on political and religious affiliations.
Another noticeable finding was that more Israeli Jews believed continued settlement-building in the West Bank helped Israel’s security than those who found them harmful – even 13 percent of those on the “left side of the ideological spectrum” said settlements were helpful, the survey found.
According to the poll, about eight in 10 Palestinian citizens of Israel believe there is heavy discrimination in Israeli society against Muslims, the biggest of the religious minorities, while a vast majority of Jewish respondents (74 percent) said they did not see such discrimination.
The poll raised alarms inside Israel, with Rivlin saying it portrayed “a very dangerous situation”, especially in the “attitude towards Israel’s Arab citizens”.
“There is a difference between the way in which Israeli Arabs perceive themselves in the high percentages, as discriminated against, and the number of Jews who are confident that there is no discrimination,” Rivlin said in a statement after the release of the report.
“This is a survey that needs to stand before decision-makers in Israel, before the government in Israel. It indicates the need to deal with our internal problems now more than ever.”
Divisions between Palestinian and Jewish respondents also showed different attitudes towards the peace process, which has been at a stalemate since 2014, with pressure increasing on Israel from the international community to stop building settlements.
Both Palestinians and Jews, the poll showed, were sceptical about the sincerity of the Palestinian and Israeli governments seeking a peace agreement.
“What’s interesting is that Arab Israelis are likewise just as doubtful of [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas as they are of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told Al Jazeera.
“This reflects a wave of disillusionment that is only rising after the latest high-level talks failed in 2014. Both leaders now seem more preoccupied with domestic politics, something people on both sides clearly recognise,” Rumley said.
Palestinians comprise approximately 20 percent of Israel’s population of more than eight million people. Among those polled, 50 percent said a peaceful two-state solution was possible, compared to 43 percent of Jews.
Among Jews themselves, only 29 percent on the right thought an independent Palestinian state can live peacefully alongside Israel.
“The majority of Palestinians and Israelis, as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel have come to believe peace will never happen,” Telhami said.
“These feelings don’t bode well for the future. You cannot decouple Jewish-Arab relations within Israel itself from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because Palestinians in Israel sympathise with those in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli Jews find it hard to separate between Palestinians inside Israel and those in the territories. The lines are therefore blurred inevitably.”