Polls: Boost for Israel in Europe

By Marc Perelman

Published June 23, 2006, issue of June 23, 2006.
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Recent polls suggest that Islamic radicalism has achieved what Israeli public relations efforts never could: a significant boost in Western European support for Israel.

According to two recent polls, the level of French and German support for Israel has increased significantly in the past few years.

The annual Pew Global Attitudes survey found that French support for Israel has doubled over the past four years, to 36%, from 19%, putting it on a par with support for the Palestinians. Similarly, a poll conducted by the Israel Project found that support for the Palestinians among opinion elites in France had dropped to 21% today from 47% in 2002.

“In past Global Attitudes surveys, the American public’s strong pro-Israel stance set it apart from other countries,” the authors of the Pew project wrote. “But that has changed as Germans, in particular, have become much more sympathetic to Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.”

The Pew survey found that 37% of Germans support Israel, while only 18% support the Palestinians.

To explain the change, pollster Stanley Greenberg, who conducted the survey for the Israel Project, stated that Europeans were less inclined to see the conflict “in a post-colonial framework.”

“Previously, there was a sense that Europe could cancel out its own colonial history by taking the ‘right’ side by supporting the Palestinians,” he said in comments accompanying the poll. “The shift has occurred because today the Europeans are focused on radical Islam and its impact on them.… The Europeans are now asking themselves, ‘Who is the moderate in this conflict, and who is the extremist?’”

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Britain and France to seek support for his unilateral withdrawal plan from the West Bank. Both British and French leaders reiterated their preference for a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinian side. He is set to visit Germany next month.

According to the Pew survey, which was conducted among nearly 17,000 people in the United States and 14 other countries from March 31 through May 14, more than two-thirds of the Germans and French believe that a Hamas government will not improve living conditions for the Palestinians, while the British are evenly divided.

The Israel Project found that more than 60% of French and German “opinion elites” — defined as people with a high level of education who closely follow the news, especially foreign affairs — have a negative image of Hamas.

Despite the diplomatic standoff between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, the Pew survey found that in Western Europe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still considered to be a greater threat than the Islamic fundamentalist government in Tehran. According to the Pew survey, 45% of British respondents, 35% of the French and 15% of the Germans see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a threat to world peace.

In November 2003, a controversy erupted after a poll commissioned by the European Union found that Israel was considered by 59% of Europeans as the biggest threat to global stability.

Americans are the only ones who see Iran as posing more danger than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though only by a slight margin: 46%-43%.

Pew researchers concluded that “America’s global image has again slipped, and support for the war on terrorism has declined even among close U.S. allies”; they noted that the American presence in Iraq was cited at least as often as — and in many countries, more often than — Iran as a danger to world peace.

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