The Israeli attempt to establish a moral distinction between Israel's actions in the territories and Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians has not been successful: Only 39 percent believe that Israel is morally justified, while 38 percent believe that Israel is behaving like the terrorists it is trying to combat.
となる。のである。あのような 。結構、 なのである。
A large majority of 60 percent believes that the United States should not support either of the sides. Only 4 percent of those polled believe that the American administration should express support for the Palestinian side.
w w w . h a a r e t z d a i l y . c o m
Israel's struggle for hearts and minds
WASHINGTON - The conventional wisdom among policy-makers in Israel and the United States is that if there is one front on which Israel enjoys a clear advantage in the international arena, it is hasbara - information and public relations - in the United States. Israel's views are accepted by the administration and win support in Congress and American public opinion clearly prefers the Israeli cause to the Palestinian one. However, closer scrutiny of the elements that make up American public opinion will show that Israel has cause for concern.
In the duel with the Palestinians over the hearts of average Americans, Israel wins hands down. But when Israel puts itself up for judgment, things look different: Israel is seen as a country that is not pursuing peace, is largely responsible for the violence in the territories and is not morally in the right in the conflict. These positions largely reflect the approach taken by the public at large and to an even greater extent, the views of the most influential groups within American society.
An inside look at American public opinion about Israel has been provided by a survey conducted in late October by pollster Stanley Greenberg, and including a variety of questions related to Americans' approach to Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jews in America. The survey, which according to experts in the field faithfully reflects the current mood in America toward Israel, was privately commissioned by a group of Jewish activists who are conducting a broad-based television campaign for Israel. The results were kept confidential. The purpose of the survey was to find out how effective messages aimed at the public are, but the answers it supplies show what Americans really think about Israel.
This can be seen, for example, in a general question about the extent of support for Israel in its struggle against the Palestinians. Although the Palestinian cause is at a very low point in the United States, and the American public, according to other surveys, for the most part, identifies Palestinian violence with terrorism in general, Israel enjoys a support rate of only 50 percent among "influential" Americans (high-income, educated people who take a considerable interest in the news). The figure drops to 48 percent when this group of Americans is reduced to those living in the Washington, D.C. area, in other words, those with access to government circles.
The good news is that this figure represents a halt in a trend seen in the last year, involving a neutral stand toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict, with people stating that "both sides are to blame." In any case, support from half of the population on any issue is always an encouraging figure. However, the empty half of the glass is more troubling to those involved in the subject, because it means that among those with social and political clout in America, for every individual that supports Israel, there is another who opposes it. This is happening at time when the Palestinians are at a disadvantage in public relations, when the president has openly declared his support for Israel and Israel's political lobby is at its height.
This problematic situation is apparent throughout the survey in a variety of questions. It turns out, for example, that on most issues, the American public sees moral equivalency between Israel and the Palestinians, an approach that Israel has been trying to combat since the outbreak of the intifada. About 54 percent of the "influential" group believes that there is moral equivalency between the two sides (46 percent among the general population). More than half believe that both sides are equal in their aspirations for peace and almost half believe that both sides are equally responsible for the violence. The Israeli attempt to establish a moral distinction between Israel's actions in the territories and Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians has not been successful: Only 39 percent believe that Israel is morally justified, while 38 percent believe that Israel is behaving like the terrorists it is trying to combat.
The American public is apparently troubled not only by the question of what Israel is doing in the territories, but also by the possible repercussions of these actions for the United States itself. While the conventional wisdom has it that terror attacks against the United States should create an American-Israeli solidarity against terrorists and in favor of attacks against them, Greenberg's survey shows that three-quarters of those polled among the general public believe that "Israeli's actions in the territories are raising a new generation of potential terrorists, who could attack the United States in the future."
In a previous survey, conducted in July using a similar format, there was a majority of 58 percent among the "influential" population that supported active military support for Israel in case it is attacked. However, in the last survey, the rate of support for American military intervention for Israel dropped to only 48 percent.
So what should the United States do in the Middle East? The elites, according to the survey, believe that the American administration should pressure Israel to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians. On the question of which side the United States should support, Israel still enjoys an advantage, but it involves only one-third of the population that believes that Israel should be supported. A large majority of 60 percent believes that the United States should not support either of the sides. Only 4 percent of those polled believe that the American administration should express support for the Palestinian side.
But Israel still gets a lot of credit points in American public opinion, even according to this survey. Beyond the obvious advantage over its Palestinian rivals, Israel is viewed among the influential population as a strong ally of the United States, a country that shares American values of equality and freedom and is a partner to the democratic ideology upon which the United States is based. From a public relations standpoint, these are very important points that help establish Israel's unique status in American public opinion and guarantees that it will be judged favorably by the public, even if that public does not always agree with its actions and behavior.
However, the survey reveals the fact that in the long run, the American public, despite its loyalty to Israel, could become open to a different approach toward Israel by the administration. One source expressed the view that when 75 percent of Americans view the settlers as "the principal obstacle to peace." As the survey shows, the American demand to freeze the settlements, for example, is not likely to encounter a great deal of opposition among the public. The general conclusion, one that should be troubling to PR experts working for Israel and on its behalf, is that as long as Israel has to contend for public support against the Palestinians, its victory is assured. But if Israel will one day need to struggle for its position on its own merits, not as compared to another entity, it will find itself in a far more difficult situation.
An embarrassing leak
The "influential" Americans polled for this survey are characterized, according to preliminary examinations, by a problematic approach toward Israel. They are people with notably stronger pro-Arab tendencies than among the general population, who traditionally believe in the need for intervention on the part of the administration in the form of pressure on Israel. The results of other surveys conducted in the past year, like one that examined the positions of conservative Christians, were more flattering to Israel and demonstrated a higher level of support for it. In the voting booth, all votes are equal, and the current administration has a warm place in its heart for the Christian right and its views. But American politics have proved that between elections, special weight is given to the influential groups among the population, far beyond the number of ballots their members cast.
The new obstacle facing Israeli PR at present is the question of the possible American war against Iraq. An expose in The Washington Post recently caused considerable embarrassment to Israeli PR experts, when the newspaper published an internal memorandum with recommendations for Israeli PR vis-a-vis Iraq. The recommendations, authored by Republican strategist Frank Luntz, were commissioned by Project Israel, the same organization that commissioned Greenberg's survey of public opinion about Israel. The article enabled readers to have a look behind the scenes of hasbara - including an appeal to Israeli spokesmen not to present the war in Iraq as an "Israeli matter," a demand to minimize comments on a possible response to missile fire on Israel from Iraq and the suggestion that Israel not try to teach the American public about the Middle East.
Israeli officials hurried to repudiate the leaked study, saying there was no connection between the government of Israel and the private Jewish organizations that commissioned it. Off the record, complaints could be heard that the paper caused substantial damage because it placed Israel on the same plane as Saudi Arabia - a country that hires public relations firms to promote its interests. The Israeli public relations difficulty pointed out by the Luntz paper is significant. Israel, on the one hand, wants to retain its deterrent capability and tell the entire world that Israel will not restrain itself again in the face of an attack by Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, such statements create difficulties for the United States and make Israel look as if it is waiting for America to reward it for staying its hand. Moreover, how will Israel explain the fact that it supports active international intervention to solve one focus of instability in the region (Iraq) while firmly opposing any such intervention in another (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)?
The public relations line taken by the Arabs in the past few months has been that Iraq is not the problem - Palestine is, and that the Americans should first resolve the issues in that troubled area of the region before dealing with Saddam Hussein. Israel will have to respond to this approach with caution - by rejecting the comparison, but without sending the message that it is not interested in resolving the conflict.
By Nathan Guttman