August 22, 2013
Israelis on Obama’s Policy: Bad 40%, Mediocre 35%, Good 14%
Two days ago, in an article I wrote for the IHT-NYT, I tried to explain why Israel is rooting for the Egyptian military. And I was talking not just about official Israel, but also about the public: "And so the Israeli government is hoping that the Egyptian military won’t surrender now. (It might even be thinking: Good thing the Islamists were pushed aside before they could weaken the secular and nationalistic military, Turkey style.) The same goes for the Israeli public, the pollster Menachem Lazar, of Panels Politics, told me; he said it wants 'anything but the Muslim Brotherhood.'" The problem, both for me and for Lazar, was that we didn't have solid data with which to support our confident contention. We strongly believed we were right, but we had to wait for the first polls of this week to be able to prove it with exact numbers.
Lazar did have numbers from the day Morsi was ousted by the military, from which it was clear that Israelis instinctively preferred Sisi. When asked on July 4th about who they think is better for Israel as the ruler of Egypt, 4% said Morsi, while 22% said Sisi – a person very few Israelis knew anything about at that time (indeed, 50% said that they didn't know). The problem with using that old poll as proof is obvious: this was all before the Egyptian military opened fire and killed hundreds of demonstrators. So theoretically speaking, one could argue that Israelis might have changed their minds since July.
But they didn't. In a poll released today there's still 4% for Morsi. No change. The question is a little different: Lazar asked "which side should the US support?" – it's not a question about which person is better for Israel as the leader of Egypt. But I think the results are indicative enough to put the question of Israeli preference to rest. 4% said Morsi, 45% said Sisi. 33% say that the US should support no one, and 19% don't know. By the way, according to this poll more Israelis would also not urge the US to get involved "more actively" in the Egyptian crisis (39% for no, 33% for yes). Telling the US not to get involved is telling the US to let the military keep doing what it is doing – so it's just another sign that the Israeli public is satisfied with an Egypt controlled, even brutally, by the military (the American public, as we've mentioned earlier this week, supports cutting off US aid to Egypt).
In today's poll Israelis were also asked to do something similar to what we often do in our Israel Factor surveys- to rank Obama's Middle East policies. The difference of course is that our Factor survey is a survey of ten experts, while the poll is representative of the Israeli public. Back in June, when we asked the Factor panel to rank Obama on "dealing with developments in Egypt and handling relations with the Egyptian government", the verdict was mediocre: 6.33 out of 10 possible points. Yet this was before recent developments (on which the panel will give its opinion soon).
Interestingly though, it seems that the Israeli public doesn't view Obama much differently from our panel – it also gives the President a grade that is at best mediocre. The question was: "how would you rank Obama's policy towards the Middle East since he came into office?" – so it's not about Egypt alone, or Syria alone, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather an over all perception of Obama's handling of Middle eastern matters. It is also not a question referring to recent developments, but rather to Obama's policies since he came into office – but such questions tend to be highly impacted by what the public thinks about recent developments (do we even remember what the Middle East looked like when Obama came into office, ages ago?)
Here's what the Israeli public says about Obama's handling of the Middle East:
Can't estimate: 10%
Now the question: is this bad or good?
The answer: it really depends on one's expectations from the American President. If one feels that as long as the President's handling of this region isn't truly a disaster that's fine, then one could take the "good" and the "mediocre" and get to a fair share of 49% of the Israeli public that is reasonably satisfied with Obama. If, however, one expects the President of the US to handle Middle East policy in a way that is no less than excellent, combining the "bad" with the "mediocre" would lead to the conclusion that 75% of the Israeli public isn't satisfied with Obama.
As I wrote many times in the past, I tend to think that Israelis generally expect a lot– possibly too much – from American presidents. This is true when they answer questions related to the level of Presidential support for Israel (numbers here), and is also true when it comes to more general questions about the President's handling of the Middle East. So the verdict on Obama, while not a disaster, is also far from complimentary. Obama's foreign policy approval rating is going slightly down in the US, and it isn't high in Israel either.