Last week I wrote about the complicated nature of the question of US aid to Egypt – another question on which Israel and the US seem to be divided (in addition to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks). While the US seems determined to punish Egypt for its lack of democracy, the Israeli government prefers to see aid to Egypt flow uninterrupted, fearing the negative consequences that might occur if the Egyptian government were pushed to demonstrate its ability to retaliate against the US' punitive measures.
Interestingly, on all three fronts of disagreement, the debate isn't between a US administration and an Israeli government of a certain political bend. Public opinion polls show that on Iran, Palestine and Egypt, Israelis overwhelmingly agree with the Netanyahu government position. The latest example is from last week's Panels Politics poll that pollster Menachem Lazar was kind enough to send me.
"Should the US keep aiding Egypt by strengthening the current regime", Israelis were asked. 52% of them said yes, 20% said no (28% said they don't know). On Iran, the numbers are even more striking: 85% of Israelis believe that the Iranians are leading the western world by the nose, while only 2% of Israelis believe that Iran really intends to change its policy (13% don't know). On Palestine and the peace talks, skepticism rules, no matter what Secretary Kerry says: 6% of Israelis believe that there's a chance for an agreement, while 86% do not believe such an outcome is probable (8% don't know). 71% of Israelis believe that the Palestinian complaints regarding the new building constructions in the West Bank are merely an excuse for the Palestinians to avoid a resolution to the conflict. Less than a quarter of Israelis – 24% - believe that the settlement building plan that was announced two weeks ago can be considered as "material damage" to the peace process.
My INYT (International New York Times) column from last week was about the US spying on allies.
A majority of Americans – 56% - say that it is “unacceptable for the US to monitor the phones of allied leaders”. According to the Pew research center, Republicans and Democrats share this view. According to a survey by The Guttman Center Israelis are split on the question “what is more important” for the US – “obtaining intelligence data from friendly countries or maintaining their trust toward the United States?” – with a majority of people believing that “maintaining friendly countries’ trust in the United States” is the better option (49% to 41%).
Yet when it comes to Israel the picture changes dramatically: a large majority of Israelis say that they would favor listening to leaders and citizens of friendly countries (if Israel indeed practices such eavesdropping).
You want to know why? Take a look:
The difference between outraged Americans and impassive Israelis is striking, and illuminating. It is the difference between a public for whom security is largely a theoretical issue, and a public for whom defending the homeland is a perpetual concern. It is the difference between a society that is concerned for its privacy no less than its security, and a society that won’t hesitate to trade some privacy for more security.
The explanation is basic. According to a Pew Research Center survey from 2011, “just one-half of one percent of American adults” served in active duty at any given time over the previous decade, even though it was a period of sustained war for the United States. By contrast, a vast majority of Israelis serve in the military at some point. As many as one in five have personally witnessed a terrorist attack. And according to the Israel Defense Forces, in 2012 more than one million Israelis were living under the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza.
In other words, Israelis are both more concerned about the possible consequences of neglecting intelligence, and are more aware of the measures necessary for the useful gathering of intelligence.