May 08 2012
A new survey from the University of Haifa has found that 40% of Arab youth in Israel were personally willing to volunteer with the civil service in 2011, compared to 53% in 2009. It has also shown a drop in public support for the civil service: 62% today as compared to 68% in 2009 and 78% in 2007. “Nevertheless, the support percentages are still high”, researchers Prof. Sammy Smooha and Zohar Lechtman indicated.
Israel offers youth who are exempted from compulsory military service an option to volunteer for a year or two with a civil service, contributing to state, communal, and other non-profit organizations. For years, only Orthodox Jewish girls volunteered, but since 2007 the service was also opened to ultra-Orthodox boys (Haredim), Arabs, and exempts on health and other grounds. Veterans of civil service receive the status and benefits granted to military veterans. It is a new opportunity for Arabs to fulfill a state service, commensurate with fulfillment of the draft, through volunteering.
A new study conducted at the University of Haifa by Prof. Sammy Smooha and Zohar Lechtman reveals that 90% of the Arab volunteers are girls, rendering educational and welfare services in their own communities. “Arab leaders vehemently oppose civil service because it is presumably linked to national security, may serve as a precedent for imposing in the future a military or civil service duty, dilute the Palestinian-Arab identity and commitments of Arab youth, and because it is administered by the state instead of the Arabs themselves,” explains Prof. Smooha.
The study shows that 39.7% of Arab youth aged 18-22 are personally willing to volunteer with the civil service in lieu of military service and 62.2% of the Arab public supports the volunteering of Arab youth with the civil service. These numbers indicate a drop in public support for the civil service in comparison to 2009 and 2007, but the researchers said the figures are still high. The survey findings were presented at a conference held at the University of Haifa on May 8, 2012.
“Despite the drop and the strong objection of the Israeli Arab leadership, the public support and the youth’s willingness to volunteer are still high, and in addition, the dramatic rise in the number of Arab volunteers with the civil service has continued,” explain Prof. Smooha and Dr. Lechtman.
According to the official figures of the Civil-National Service Administration, there has been an appreciable rise in Arab volunteers each year, from 240 in 2004-5 to 1,050 in 2008-9 and to 2,399 this year. The present survey, which was carried out from summer to fall 2011, drew on 968 Arab respondents, consisting of 410 from the general public, 252 youth 18-22 years old, 154 volunteers, and 152 veterans. The 2011 study is part of a larger research project on civil service for Arabs that began in 2007 and included Arab leadership.
A decline in support of civil service is evident. The Arab public’s support was down from 78% in 2007, to 68% in 2009 and to 62% in 2011, while the Arab youth’s willingness to volunteer dropped from 53% in 2009 to 40% in 2011.
It was found that the majority of Arabs lack a basic knowledge of civil service. Only 41.6% of the youth in 2011 said they had sufficient information on civil service. Since 2009 more youth were exposed to information against civil service and as a result some of them became less keen on volunteering. “But the major factor in the drop of support is the exacerbation of the Arab public’s attitudes toward the state because of the political impasse in the Palestinian question, the wars and the hostile atmosphere in Israel toward Arabs since 2009,” says Prof. Smooha. “At any rate, the decline was not caused by Arab volunteers’ disappointment with the civil service. The government does not launch any campaign to counterbalance the strong campaign against civil service by Arab leadership,” the researchers added.
The Arab volunteers with the civil service are found to be highly content with the service. 91.6% of the volunteers were satisfied with the service, 95.8% felt proud of their volunteering, 96.4% said that people treated them well, 89.0% thought that volunteering contributed to Arab society, and 82.4% evaluated that it contributed to the state. According to the researchers, the positive evaluation of the civil service that was also found among veterans half a year to four years after their discharge from the civil service, shows that the evaluation is stable and did not stem from dependence on the civil service administration. “These findings disprove the fears expressed by the Arab leadership of Israelization, estrangement from Arab society, and erosion of national identity of the Arab volunteers,” the researchers explain.
The survey also found that 85.6% of the volunteers and 65.6% of the veterans believed that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, against 49.2% of the youth who did not volunteer. Yet, the researchers indicated that the civil service was not the main factor accounting for this difference but rather selective recruitment of the volunteers. The volunteers arrive with pre-existing positive attitudes and the service reinforces their identification with the state without diminishing their strong identification with Arab society.
“For the time being the civil service as a state undertaking does not fulfill one of its chief goals of drawing Arab youth nearer to the state, because so far only youth who are identified with the state and completed high school volunteer. 75% of the volunteers serve in Arab towns and villages and do not come in contact with Jews. Moreover, the percentage of volunteers, although growing impressively, is still too small and has not reached the critical mass for affecting change in the status of the Arab minority in Israel,” the researchers concluded.