Almost half of Jewish Israelis believe Arabs should be "expelled or transferred" from Israel, a survey has found.
A study carried out by the Pew Research Centre found that around one in five adults questioned “strongly agreed” with the controversial statement, which amounts to ethnic cleansing under some definitions.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the act as “attempting to create ethnically homogeneous geographic areas through the deportation or forcible displacement of persons belonging to particular ethnic group”, while a United Nations report in 1993 additionally specified the use of “force or intimidation”.
In Pew’s survey, 48 per cent of Jewish respondents said Arabs should be removed from Israel, while a similar share disagreed with the statement.
While 54 to 71 per cent of Jews who defined themselves as ultra-Orthodox, religious or “traditional” supported such a step, only about 36 per cent of the secular community did.
“While religious identity influences Israeli Jews’ views on the expulsion of Arabs, the survey finds that even after taking this and other demographic factors into account, Jews’ views on the expulsion of Arabs are most strongly correlated with their political ideology,” the Pew Research Centre report noted.
“The further to the left Israeli Jews place themselves on the political spectrum, the more likely they are to oppose the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.”
Those supporting the cleansing tended to be Russian-speaking, rather than Hebrew or Yiddish, male, and with a Jewish education to secondary level or below.
Reuven Rivlin, the President of Israel, called the findings a “wake-up call for Israeli society”.
“It pains me to see the gap that exists in the public's consciousness - religious and secular - between the notion of Israel as a Jewish state and as a democratic state,” he added.
“A further problem is the attitude towards Israel's Arab citizens.”
Israeli Arab is the Israeli government’s definition of non-Jewish citizens and many members of the minority, who are predominantly Muslim, identify as Palestinian.
In the same survey, almost 80 per cent of Jewish Israelis said Jews deserved preferential treatment in Israel, while a similar proportion of Israeli Arabs claimed they had seen discrimination against Muslims.
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict intensifies
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict intensifies
Medics evacuate a wounded man from the scene of an attack in Jerusalem. A Palestinian rammed a vehicle into a bus stop then got out and started stabbing people before he was shot dead
Israeli ZAKA emergency response members carry the body of an Israeli at the scene of a shooting attack in Jerusalem. A pair of Palestinian men boarded a bus in Jerusalem and began shooting and stabbing passengers, while another assailant rammed a car into a bus station before stabbing bystanders, in near-simultaneous attacks that escalated a month long wave of violence
Palestinians throw molotov cocktail during clashes with Israeli troops near Ramallah, West Bank. Recent days have seen a series of stabbing attacks in Israel and the West Bank that have wounded several Israelis
Women cry during the funeral of Palestinian teenager Ahmad Sharaka, 13, who was shot dead by Israeli forces during clashes at a checkpoint near Ramallah, at the family house in the Palestinian West Bank refugee camp of Jalazoun, Ramallah
A wounded Palestinian boy and his father hold hands at a hospital after their house was brought down by an Israeli air strike in Gaza
Palestinians look on after a protester is shot by Israelis soldiers during clashes at the Howara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus
A lawyer wearing his official robes kicks a tear gas canister back toward Israeli soldiers during a demonstration by scores of Palestinian lawyers called for by the Palestinian Bar Association in solidarity with protesters at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, near Ramallah, West Bank
Undercover Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian in Ramallah
Palestinian youth burn tyres during clashes with Israeli soldiers close to the Jewish settlement of Bet El, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after Israel barred Palestinians from Jerusalem's Old City as tensions mounted following attacks that killed two Israelis and wounded a child
The research appeared to show that all religious and ethnic groups had lost hope for a two-state solution, with half of Arabs saying co-existence was possible compared to 40 per cent of Jewish Israelis.
The most recent round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014, just before a seven-week war in Gaza, and tensions have worsened in recent months with a resurgence of violence that has seen an estimated 28 Israelis and 172 Palestinians – mostly attackers – killed.
Pew conducted through face-to-face interviews in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian with more than 5,600 Israeli adults from October 2014 to May 2015 for the research.
Additional reporting by Reuters