JERUSALEM – More than 40 percent of Israel's Arab citizens say the Holocaust never happened, and barely one half think Israel has a right to exist, according to a survey published Monday. But the academic who directed it said the results were likely more statements of protest than belief.
Sammy Smooha believes the numbers, which have shown a significant shift in the past few years, signal a rising frustration among minority Arabs in the Jewish state. He said the growing Holocaust denial is fueled by a belief that recognizing the World War II genocide, in which German Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews, gives justification to Israeli policies.
"When they say 'there was no Holocaust,' they are protesting. They are saying 'I am not giving legitimacy to the Jewish state,"' said Smooha, a Haifa University sociologist. "It's an index of despair, frustration and protest."
The survey found that 41 percent of respondents say the Holocaust never happened, up from 28 percent who said so in 2006 when the question was first asked.
Holocaust denial is rampant among Palestinians and in Arab countries neighboring Israel. But Arabs in Israel have frequent contact with Jews and learn about the Holocaust in school.
Smooha said the growing radicalization among Israeli Arabs is a result of the 2006 Lebanon War, the stalemate in peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the continued divide between Israel's Jewish and Arab populations. This has made it hard for Arabs to view Israeli Jews as victims.
The survey also found that the portion of the Israeli Arab public that believes Israel has a right to exist as an independent country has fallen from 81 percent in 2003 when the study was first conducted to 54 percent today.
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's 7 million residents. Unlike their ethnic brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they hold Israeli citizenship. However, they have suffered decades of discrimination in jobs, housing and education budgets.
Tensions between Israeli Jews and Arabs recently flared after elections here brought to power an ultranationalist foreign minister who has proposed a loyalty test that is widely seen as anti-Arab.
Israeli Arab lawmaker Hana Sweid said he doubted the extent of Holocaust denial in Arab society in Israel was as great as the survey suggested. Regardless, he said he could understand how some would make the connection between the Holocaust and their own alienation from the state.
"I don't think that the Holocaust takes up a central part of Arab life in Israel," he said. "But if the figures are correct, this is a failure of the state to connect to its Arab citizens and it has to make great efforts to deal with this and reconnect."
The survey questioned 700 Arab men and women this year and had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.