Israel's stock rises in US, Europe despite war

September 19, 2006 02:53

Analyst: People stopped seeing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as root of all Mideast instability.

4 minute read.

Israel's stock rises in US, Europe despite war

pro israel rally 88. (photo credit: )

Israel's public standing in both the US and Europe has improved following the war in Lebanon, according to seemingly counterintuitive figures that international pollster Stan Greenberg is presenting government officials this week. Israel's support in the US is near its highest level since Greenberg began systematically charting the numbers in April 2003, while in Europe more and more people see Israel as a moderate force in what is increasingly being perceived as a battle between moderates and extremists in the Middle East. Amir Gissin, director of public affairs (hasbara) at the Foreign Ministry, said the numbers reflected a general trend in the West, where people were beginning to widen the lens they used to interpret information about the Middle East. A positive side effect of the war, Gissin said, was that people in the West had stopped seeing the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the root of all Middle East instability. Israeli spokesmen, he said, should not be shy about pointing to the rise of a threatening radical Islam and to contrast that with a moderate Israel that has demonstrated a willingness to compromise. According to a poll Greenberg conducted among 850 likely US voters between September 6 and 11, 53 percent of respondents said they considered themselves supporters or strong supporters of Israel, while only 5% said they were supporters or strong supporters of the Palestinians. While the pro-Israel figure has dropped from its three-year peak of 58% in May 2006, it was the lowest level of US support for the Palestinians since April 2003. Likewise, some 47% of the respondents in the poll said they had warm or favorable feelings toward Israel, while only 17% said the same about the Palestinians. Regarding the war in Lebanon and the IDF's campaign in Gaza, the poll reported that 74% of the American public believes Israel was motivated in these actions by a desire to protect itself, while only 16% saw the moves as the pursuit of an expansionist Israeli policy. The US public was split, however, over the question of whether Israel went too far in the war against Hizbullah, with 45% saying that Israel acted properly and 42% saying it went too far. Greenberg was a key pollster for former US president Bill Clinton, and also worked with prime minister Ehud Barak. He conducted these surveys for the Israel Project, a US-based nonprofit organization that educated the media and the public about Israel. The findings, Greenberg said, showed that disengagement from Gaza and the conflict in Lebanon had brought increased support for Israel since 2002. He said that since the withdrawal from Gaza, people believed that Israel was more willing to make sacrifices to advance peace than the Palestinians or their leaders. The poll also showed that the war in Lebanon had hammered home the connection between Hizbullah and Iran to the American public, with only 38% aware of these ties during the first week of the war, but 53% aware of them afterward. Regarding Europe, Greenberg said the war had reinforced findings he presented in June showing there had been a dramatic shift in Europe's perception of the conflict. Greenberg, who conducted extensive polls in France, Germany and Britain on the subject, said there had been a "disengagement" from the paradigm long prevalent in Europe that viewed Israel as a powerful colonial power against the powerless and vulnerable Palestinians, who were represented by a romantic, revolutionary leader. With Yasser Arafat now out of the picture, a battle taking place between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, and - most importantly - concern inside Europe on how Muslim extremism will play out there, Greenberg said the way Europeans viewed the conflict was shifting significantly. He said that while the Europeans were not necessarily identifying more with Israel than in the past, they were, to a large degree, identifying far less with the Palestinians. One possible result of this trend is that European leaders might feel greater freedom than in the past in determining their country's polices toward the region. Most significantly, Greenberg said, there was an increasing awareness that the source of instability in the region was Islamic extremism. This stands in contrast to the countless statements by European statesmen to the effect that a solution needed to be found to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because it was the crux of Middle East instability. For example, according to the poll, 60% of the French public, and 64% of its "elites," now believe the heart of the problem in the Middle East is the conflict between moderates and extremists, with Israel on the side of the moderates, along with Abbas, Egypt and Jordan. Nevertheless, the poll found a considerable difference between American attitudes and those in Britain and France regarding who was more responsible for the instability, Israel and its policies or Islamic extremism. While in the US 63% said Islamic extremism was responsible and only 15% blamed Israel, in Britain 18% faulted Israel and only 27% Islamic extremism. The figures were particularly worrying among French elites, with 29% placing the onus on Israel and 31% on Islamic extremists.

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