A public opinion survey focusing on attitudes toward foreigners living in Israel reflects the strong emotions and polarizing effect the current debate is creating within Israeli society.
The Peace Index poll, conducted between April 30 and May 2 by the Dahaf Institute for Tel Aviv University, shows the growing fear and loathing that Israeli Jews feel toward foreign workers: 83% support the current demonstrations being held in south Tel Aviv against African immigrants, 80% are opposed to an open-door policy regarding refugees who were persecuted in their home countries, and 60% feel the government is fully to blame for the current state of fear and violence.
A significant finding is that 52% of Israeli Jews polled agree with MK Miri Regev's controversial statement, made at an anti-immigrant rally in south Tel Aviv, that African migrants were "like a cancer in our bodies."
"We will do everything to ensure the Sudanese don't live here. We won't allow this threat to grow like a cancer in our bodies," Regev, a staunch right-winger in the ruling Likud party, told a rally on May 23rd.
Despite the intense opinions revealed in the survey, 79% of all respondents said that there are very few, if any, immigrants living in their area.
As many as 60,000 migrants from Africa have crossed Israel's porous border with Egypt over the last several years. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers have warned that an uncontrolled influx of migrants would destroy Israel's Jewish character. Many of the migrants are looking for work in Israel, but rights groups say the government is too slow in examining asylum requests. Regev's comments were, however, condemned by Netanyahu, who told a weekly cabinet meeting that there was no place for such statements and the violence that ensued in south Tel Aviv following Regev's speech. In recent weeks, several rapes blamed on African migrants have also sparked outrage and anger.
The poll also shows that while most Israeli Arabs also oppose an open-door policy regarding refugees, significant differences emerged when asked about specific questions regarding the current south Tel Aviv riots: Only 25% of Arab respondents said they support the demonstrators, and only 19% view unauthorized Africans currently in Israel as a "cancer".
The poll continued to ask Arabs and Jews about particular ethnic groups, finding that whereas the majority of Israeli Jews were not very disturbed by the presence of workers from South America, Eastern Europe, Thailand and the Philippines, they were disturbed by the presence of foreigners from Africa, or by Palestinians.
The two groups that are considered the least desirable by 79% of Israeli Jews are immigrants from Sudan and Eritrea, and Palestinian workers. Israeli Arabs, on the other hand, were fairly comfortable with all of the above mentioned categories, with 70-90% of those asked saying they are undisturbed by the presence of foreign workers.
The poll's margin of error is 4.5% with 609 people polled.