An August 2009 survey that found only 4% of Israelis believe President Barack Obama supports Israel has been haunting the White House and supporters of the president. The 4% figure became a symbol of Obama’s inability to communicate with the Israeli people and fostered the notion that the U.S. president is biased toward the Arab side. But a poll published December 10 seeks to dispel this notion by presenting new numbers regarding Israeli views on President Obama.
The survey, commissioned by the New America Foundation and conducted by pollster Jim Gerstein, carries some good news and some bad news for the Obama administration: The 4% figure gives way in the new survey to a much more nuanced approach and a warmer welcome to the president. But at the same time, Israelis remain suspicious toward Obama and a majority does not see him as being pro-Israel.
The poll found that 41% of Israelis hold favorable views of Obama and only 37% view him unfavorably. But when touching directly on the issue of Obama’s approach to Israel, the views shift: 55% of Israelis do not believe President Obama supports Israel, compared to 42% who believe he is supportive of their country. Israelis, however, see Obama as honest, strong and as a good choice for the world. At the same time, the American president is also perceived as naïve and weak on terror. Israelis, according to the polling data, see value in the relationship with America and do not want to replace the U.S. with any other ally.
Jim Gerstein, who conducted the poll in Israel during the second week of November, said that the overall approach of Israelis to Obama is favorable, despite their feeling that “he is not in our corner.”
The survey also found strong support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a general willingness in the Israeli public to accept a peace agreement with the Palestinians if and when Netanyahu reaches such an accord. This finding, Gerstein believes, can pave the way to a more active American role in driving forward the Middle East peace process. “It shows that the president of the U.S. comes to this issue from a position of strength, not of weakness,” he said, “and that the notion that Netanyahu’s hands are tied is not consistent with the views of Israelis.”
But despite Israeli willingness to accept a compromise with Palestinians, the poll also found a general lack of interest in the peace process. The number-one concern for Israelis, according to the survey, is dealing with the education system, then come economy and security. Only a quarter of Israelis view peace in the region as a top priority.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman