Half of all Jewish Israelis would rather Arabs be expelled from Israel, a staggering new survey has shown.

Image #: 40199080    (151018) -- RAMALLAH, Oct. 18, 2015 (Xinhua) -- A Palestinian protester holds national flag during clashes with Israeli soldiers, in Beit El, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Oct. 18, 2015.

 A Palestinian protester during clashes with Israeli soldiers

The jaw-dropping figure, revealed this week in a huge survey by the respected U.S-based Pew Research Centre, laid bare the seismic shift in attitudes, with one in five Jewish adults “strongly agreeing” with the forced removal of Israeli Arabs.

Support for expelling Israel’s two million Arabs comes mainly from religious Jews, with 69 percent of strictly Orthodox and 54 percent of national-religious Jews in favour, while a slim majority of secular Jews were opposed, giving a total of 48 percent support.

The survey, published on Tuesday, heard from more than 5,600 Israelis, including 3,789 Jews, 871 Muslims, 468 Christians and 439 Druze.

It showed that four in every five Jewish Israelis felt Jews should be given preferential treatment over Arabs, but that three quarters of Jewish Israelis felt there was no such discrimination at present.

Authors say Pew’s work highlights an increasingly polarised society, with fundamental and growing divides between the Charedi (strictly-Orthodox), religious-national, secular and minority sectors, who “often stay within their own communities”.

In one such example, secular Jews in Israel were “more uncomfortable” with the idea of their children marrying a strictly Orthodox Jew than marrying a Christian. Subjects such as marriage, divorce, religious conversion, military conscription, gender segregation and public transportation all showed sub-group divides.

“These groups disagree on what Jewish identity is mainly about,” say researchers. “Most of the ultra-Orthodox say “being Jewish” is mainly a matter of religion, while secular Jews tend to say it is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture.”

They add: “Most secular Jews in Israel see themselves as Israeli first and Jewish second, while most Orthodox Jews see themselves as Jewish first, Israeli second.”

The research, conducted between October 2014 and May 2015, also showed strong support for the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, with 42 percent of respondents believing this helped Israel’s security.