Jewish Journal


Do Israelis think Obama is just ‘neutral’ or ‘pro-Palestinian’?

by Shmuel Rosner

March 17, 2013 | 8:20 am

President Obama, photo by Reuters

Last week, we learned some new things about American support for Israel. The American public- as you can see in our updated Favorability tracker (done by Prof. Camil Fuchs) - 'favors' Israel slightly less than it did a year ago. But we also warned that there are many ways to measure American support for Israel and that there can be differences between different polls, determined by differences in the framing of the question. A tracker based on "favorability" questions might provide for a different outcome from a tracker using ‘Sympathy questions’. Thus, while our most recent tracker shows a slight decline in American support, a Gallup poll from last Friday puts Israel at a better-than-almost-ever position. This Gallup poll is an exercise in comparing sympathies towards Israel and "the Palestinians". The result:

Americans' sympathies lean heavily toward the Israelis over the Palestinians, 64% vs. 12%. Americans' partiality for Israel has consistently exceeded 60% since 2010; however, today's 64% ties the highest Gallup has recorded in a quarter century, last seen in 1991 during the Gulf War. At that time, slightly fewer than today, 7%, sympathized more with the Palestinians.

Other than the up tick in support, there aren't many surprises in this Gallup poll: Republicans tend to be more supportive of Israel than Democrats, older Americans more than younger ones, and, also, "the percentage favoring the Palestinians increases with formal education, ranging from 8% of those with no college experience to 20% of postgraduates". The bottom line is clear (both from our tracker and Gallup's): Obama is traveling to a place which most Americans view favorably.

But what about Israelis' view of Obama? Our tracker (our Israeli Opinion on Obama tracker can be found here) tells a different story. We updated it on Friday, with a new poll by Panels Politics, in which the view of Obama slightly declined from last month. The Israeli polls that we track are of the comparative type: they all ask if Obama is more "pro-Israel", "pro-Palestinian" or "neutral". While we suppose that not everyone would agree with this analysis, our assumption is that Israelis, by and large, would like the American President to be "pro Israel" – hence, those saying that Obama is "pro-Palestinian" or "neutral" don't mean it as a compliment and don't view him as positively as previous presidents.

In the latest Panels Politics poll Obama's "pro-Israel" ranking declined from 14% to 12%.  This means that in the last year Obama's numbers were much lower than his 2012 numbers and much more similar to his 2009-10 numbers. 40% of Israelis view Obama as neutral and 35% say he is "pro Palestinian" (13% don't know). We asked pollster Menachem Lazar, who heads Panels Politics, for some cross tabs from this poll, and the most interesting one he gave us compares the views of Israelis with different levels of religiosity. Take a look:



What do we learn from this?

1) Even secular Israelis don't really have a very positive view of the American President. They might give him the benefit of the doubt and don't throw him into the "pro Palestinian" camp, but they also don't think he deserves to be labeled as "pro Israel". 68% of secular Israelis view Obama as neutral or pro Palestinian. That is a lot.

2) Religious Israelis (including Haredi respondents) have a very negative view of Obama. Two thirds of them don't even agree that he is neutral and simply believe that Obama is supportive of the other side. In fact, this is even worse than it seems, since for many religious Israelis the Palestinians aren't just the other side- they are more frequently "the enemy". Thus, religious Israelis by and large believe that Obama supports Israel's enemy. I wonder if such a view can be changed this late in the game unless something really dramatic changes it (like an American attack on Iran).

3) Obama is coming here for a "public diplomacy" visit and the good news for him is that there's not much for him to ruin, not much to lose (surely, from 12%, he can still decline to the 6% or 4% he had in very early polls, but there's a lot more for him to gain).

4) In the PP poll the public was also asked about Obama's decision not to speak at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. 53% said that this was not just a matter of "technical considerations" (23%), but rather is something that "demonstrates his general approach to Israel". So – from a public diplomacy angle- this was a mistake.

5) By the way, 76% of the religious respondents suspect that Obama's decision not to speak in the Knesset says something about his approach to Israel compared to 40% of secular Israelis. But even among the secular, only 29% thought that this was only a technicality.

6) Among the religious/Ultra-Orthodox, about half of the respondents would postpone Obama's visit (44% compared to 46% who said "let him come now").

7) Last question to Israelis: do they believe that Obama's visit is going to reignite the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? 2% said definitely. 25% said probably. 44% answered probably not. 19% said certainly not. And interestingly, in this case the differences between the different groups aren't significant.

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