The Druze inhabit a unique position in Israeli society, straddling the uneasy divide between its Jewish and Arab worlds. Comprising only 2% of the population, the Druze are an Arabic-speaking community practising an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, heavily overrepresented in the IDF’s officers’ ranks and combat units. Now, thanks to the treasure trove of new data in the Pew Research Centre’s mammoth report on Israeli society, we can paint a fascinating picture of an ethno-religious community that on most measures appears to form a bridge between the Jewish and Arab sectors.
Here are the ten main takeaway findings:
- The Druze remain deeply sceptical of the notion that Israel can be simultaneously a Jewish and democratic state. As compared to the 76% of Israeli Jews who hold this to be true, only 30% of Druze accept this proposition while 58% reject it. This makes the Druze only marginally more likely than Muslim Arabs to believe that these two pillars of Israel’s identity can be reconciled.
- The Druze are, paradoxically, both extremely and moderately religious. An astonishing 99% of Druze believe in God, and 84% believe this with absolute certainty. But that said, only half of Druze say that their religion is very important for them, practically equidistant between the poles of Muslims (68%) and Jews (30%). A quarter of Druze pray daily, again rather less than Muslims (61%) and more than Jews (21%); they are just as likely as Jews to attend religious services once a week. The Druze are also less likely than Muslims, but more likely than Jews, to consider a good religious education important for their children. Curiously, while the Druze are less likely than Jews or other Arabs to see a conflict between religion and science, they are also considerably less likely than either to believe in evolution.
- The Druze have a strong but complicated sense of identity. 93% are proud of being Druze (on a par with Jews) and 72% say that being Druze is very important to them (on a par with Arabs). But what it means to be Druze is not straightforward. Whereas 45% of Muslims say that their Muslim identity is primarily about religion, only 18% of Druze say the same about their Druze identity (similarly to Jews, for 22% of whom the same is analogously true). Instead, a third say that their Druze identity is mainly about ancestry or culture, and for nearly half it is a combination of culture and religion. Compared with Jews, the Druze are more likely to believe that they have a special responsibility to take care of people in need from their own sector.
- The Druze are politically heterogeneous. Whereas 16% apiece say they feel closest to far-left Hadash or Labor, 11% identify with the right-wing Likud. That said, a quarter of Druze identify with “no party” – on a par with Christians, five percentage points more than Muslims and much more than Jews. For context, in the 2015 Knesset elections, 38% of voters in the largest Druze town, Daliat el-Carmel, voted for Moshe Kahlon’s centre-right Kulanu party.
- The Druze take generally dovish positions on national security. The Druze are by far the most sceptical of the proposition that settlement construction helps Israeli security: only 8% are inclined to agree, compared with 42% of Jews and (surprisingly) 29% of Muslims. Instead, two-thirds of Druze consider settlement construction harmful for Israeli security, even more than the 61% of Muslims. Whereas Jews are fairly evenly split on whether Israel and a Palestinian state could coexist peacefully, the Druze share similar levels of optimism but much lower levels of pessimism. That said, the Druze are broadly similar to other Arabs in their belief that economic, rather than security-related, issues are the biggest long-term problem facing Israel. Fascinatingly, 17% of Druze are inclined to say that God gave Israel to the Jews (there is no comparative data for Muslims because the question was considered too politically sensitive).
- The Druze are broadly critical of the government on questions of peace. They are less likely than Jews to believe that the Israeli government is making a sincere effort for peace (40% to 49%), but are still less suspicious of the Israeli government than Muslims or Christians. Simultaneously, they are much less likely than Jews to contend that the Palestinian leadership is not making a sincere effort for peace (39% to 88%), though they remain less generously disposed towards the Palestinian leadership than other Arabs in Israel.
- The Druze have a surprising foreign policy perspective. The Druze are more likely than Muslims, and less than Jews, to say that American Jews have a good influence on Israel. But bizarrely, three quarters believe that the US is too supportive of Israel (the same as Muslims), and considerably fewer Druze than Muslims (3% to 13%) say that the US is not supportive enough.
- The Druze are an ambitious community. Only 20% of Druze adults have a college degree, compared to a third of Jews. But the Druze are the most likely group to say that success in a high-paying career is important to them: 94%, compared to 84% of Jews, a figure brought down by attitudes in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world.
- The Druze are sensitive to discrimination. Proportionately more Druze than Christians report being prevented from travelling, being stopped and questioned by security forces, being physically threatened or attacked, or suffering damage to their property on account of their religion – but for both, the figures are in the single digits. On most measures, the Druze are more likely than Jews, though less than Muslims, to believe that “a lot” of discrimination exists against a list of various social groups in the country.
- The Druze are a deeply endogamous community. Only 1% have a spouse of a different religion, which itself is unsurprising in a country with no option for civil marriage. Moreover, the Druze take an extremely dim view of their children marrying out: 87% would not want their children marrying Jews – with virtually identical levels of discomfort about Muslims or Christians. Nevertheless, compared to Jews, Muslims and Christians, the Druze are the least likely to say that all or most of their friends are of the same religion.
Some of these findings may prove disappointing for Israeli Jews accustomed to perceiving the Druze as typifying an exemplar relationship between a non-Jewish minority and the Jewish state. Although the Druze, unlike the Arabs, vote in large numbers for mainstream Zionist parties, they evidently do not see eye-to-eye with their fellow Jewish citizens on how or whether democracy can be reconciled with the Jewish character of the state. Given their outsized contribution to national life, this apparent discomfort with the state’s self-definition should be a cause for concern.
Indeed, Israel must be alert to sensitivities among Druze that, owing to their bridging the Jewish and Arab worlds, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Druze Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara MK wrote recently of his disappointment that Arab local councils allegedly “often receive more from the government for political reasons”. He also lamented that the exemption of Arabs from the military draft, combined with the civil service’s preference for hiring recruits with academic degrees, places young Druze at a comparative disadvantage. “The Druze and the Jews of Israel have a common destiny,” writes Kara, “a long term covenant of blood sealed many years ago”. Israel must ensure that the Druze get a fair and equitable stake in the national project and not take their remarkable contribution for granted. (Full disclosure: This author had the honor of serving under the command of an excellent Druze colonel in the IDF.)
As an important caveat: The authors of the Pew report note that there is a rather high 10.7% margin of error at 95% confidence level for their statistics on the Druze, since the study used a sample size of only 439 Druze (itself an overrepresentation in order to approximate accurate results). As such, it would be unwise to draw any firm conclusions on results that appear incongruous, or on comparisons involving small differences with other communities, until a more thorough study can be conducted.
Eylon Aslan-Levy is a British-Israeli writer and political commentator. He is a graduate of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and a veteran lone soldier in the IDF.