An examination of the violent incidents in the context of racism relates to tensions between different population groups. Prominent among them, especially against the background of last summer’s events, is the tension between Arabs and Jews. The Israel Police, the only official collector of data on the subject, changed its method of classifying violent incidents between Jews and Arabs at the beginning of 2013. Therefore, at this stage, it is not possible to examine long-term trends, only specific data covering the last two years. It should be emphasized that the Israel Police has no category of crime labeled “racist,” but it does have an “ultra-nationalist” crime category. This is an important point as the majority of crimes discussed in the Israeli media and public discourse were described as racist offenses.
It can be seen that during 2014, the number of violent ultra-nationalist incidents increased threefold among both sides, Jews and Arabs (without Judea and Samaria, which considerably distorts the picture), jumping from 77 to 265 among Jews, and from 326 to 1210 among Israeli Arabs.
During the months of June through August 2014, the number of Jewish ultra-nationalist criminal cases opened stood at 137, and the number of Palestinian ultra-nationalist cases opened was 617, both figures were significantly higher than those for 2013.
The Israel Police is the only body collecting data on the violence perpetrated by both sides, that is, Jewish ultra-nationalist offenses and Arab ultra-nationalist offenses. Other data collected on such offenses, by a number of different entities studying the subject, usually do not distinguish between victim and perpetrator, but present data on Israeli society, in which there is a Jewish majority.
The Coalition against Racism in Israel,* which independently monitors the data, relates to incidents and not to cases opened by the police. The Racism Report 2015, parts of which were released to the public on July 14, 2015, presents, among other things, a comparison between the number of incidents of racism between 2008 and 2015. Below are data relevant to citizen-on-citizen racist incidents:
We present the above data with some reservations. The Coalition against Racism in Israel is the only body collecting data today on the number of incidents, and the only organization that classifies them in an orderly manner. At the same time, the methodology by which the data are collected and processed is problematic for the following reasons:
- As the authors of the report themselves note, it is difficult to outline a full and comprehensive picture based on the data presented. This is because the report’s authors rely broadly on media reports and cases for which they have personal knowledge. There is no structured and detailed methodology that can be reviewed or considered.
- The authors do not suggest operational definitions for measuring the phenomenon, but rely instead on very broad definitions relating to a wide range of phenomena. This creates a situation in which some of the cases are questionable – are they in fact racism, or something else, no matter how opprobrious? For example, in their 2013 report, a variety of cases very different from each other in terms of motive, target, and the nature of the incident were presented under the rubric of “racism” : a) Hard core racism expressed by public relations people before a party at a club on Kibbutz Yagur: “No way are we putting Aboutbuls and Hudedas on the entry list.”; b) The fight for the Western Wall continues, and today it has reached the home of one of the activists in the organization […] On the walls of the stairwell malicious graffiti was sprayed, such as “Torah Tag,” “The Western Wall is not forfeit,” and “Holy Jerusalem”; c) A first grade student, whose classmates mocked and belittled her, tried to take her own life. “Right from the start of the school year, my daughter was exposed to serious verbal violence,” her mother says. “The children belittle her and call her ‘black,’ ‘Sudanese,’ saying ‘May you die, you and your family,’ ‘leave this country,’ and so on. I talked to her teacher, we involved professionals, but it did not help…”; d) Nissim Badran claims that he was prevented from entering a Jewish school without any security check because he is an Arab: “I have never seen such racism. She told me, with such a cheek, you’re not coming in without being checked, you’re an Arab […] The truth is that I’ve never seen such racism in my life but I am not surprised, because racism is increasing in Israel and we have already gotten used to it.”
As mentioned, some of the incidents given as examples here, and in the report itself, prompt questions as to the definition of “racism.” In addition, the absence of an operational definition also makes it difficult for the authors to remain consistent in terms of the examples they present.
A third yardstick, the attitude questionnaire, is used by many researchers, and also focuses, like police data, on tensions between Jews and Arabs and not on different groups within the Jewish population. One of the oldest and most respected of them is Prof. Sammy Smooha’s, “Still playing by the rules: Index of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.” Smooha’s index has examined the attitudes of Arabs and Jews toward each other, and toward the state, on 16 key issues since 2003. The last report, as of this writing, was published in June 2014 and relates to the year 2013. It offers a range of questions examining, among other things, the image of each of the populations in the eyes of the other, the sense of threat, interpersonal relations between the groups, and the degree of participation and integration of the Arab minority in Israeli society.
The subject of racism is mentioned explicitly in the question on the image of the other group. According to the data of the latest, the rate of respondents who were of the opinion that the majority of Jews in Israel are racist, was high (51.4 percent), but this is a significant decrease from the previous year (69.5 percent); it was 55.7 percent in 2003. In answer to questions relating to coexistence, and examining attitudes toward the state rather than toward its Jewish citizens, more than half of Arabs (56.1 percent) saw Israel as a racist state. Here too, the index for 2013 reveals a decrease, although modest: the data for 2012 indicated that 67.2 percent felt that Israel is a racist country, while in 2003 66.8 percent felt this way.8
The last, relatively new index used as an indirect yardstick to examine the phenomenon can be produced with the help of Google Trends. This service makes it possible to examine and present in graphic form the number of times a certain expression or phrase was searched for on Google. (There are certain reservations with regard to the ability of this index to present all the complex aspects of the phenomenon, but it can certainly create an initial assessment.)
The data offered in these four sources of information present a mixed picture. The Police data show a sharp increase in violent incidents between Jewish and Arab citizens between 2013 and 2014, mainly during the summer. The three other information sources on Jewish-Arab friction show a cyclical trend that rises and falls, but they do not go sufficiently far back, and are not sufficiently consistent – both in terms of methodology and operational definitions – to use them in determining whether we are talking about a gradually intensifying trend or a periodic phenomenon that has high points and low points.