It is an exciting moment when your gut feeling is confirmed by a Pew Poll. The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It is one of the worlds most quoted sources conducting public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. This week my gut feelings were confirmed in numerous Pew Polls about Egypt, Turkey, Israeli and Palestinian opinions on the peace process and on President Obama; and most importantly Israel’s image. Let me indulge in a summary.
Two years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian public mood is increasingly negative. Only 30% of Egyptians think the country is headed in the right direction, down from 53% last year and 65% in 2011, in the days after the revolution. Month after month of political uncertainty, a weak economy and often violent street protests have taken their toll; and today a majority of Egyptians are dissatisfied with the way their new democracy is working. About 58% say the country’s laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran. Overwhelmingly negative attitudes toward America and Israel persist in Egypt. Just 16% have a favorable view of the U.S. Extremely few Egyptians think a strong relationship with Israel should be a priority; just 3% say this is very or somewhat important. Additionally, most Egyptians oppose their country’s longstanding peace treaty with Israel; 63% want to annul the treaty.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Obama last week but his calls for more Western aid to Syrian rebels put him at odds with Turkish public opinion. 68% of Turks opposed Western countries sending weapons and other supplies to anti-government rebels in Syria, the second-highest level of opposition among the six predominantly Muslim countries surveyed in the region. Similarly high majorities in Turkey opposed aid to the rebels by Arab nations (66%) and their own country (65%). The Turks’ opposition to outside intervention in the Syrian conflict doesn’t however, mean they support President Assad of Syria. Of Turks surveyed, 72% said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Syrian leader (including 48% with a “very unfavorable” view); only 8% viewed Assad favorably.
Israelis and Palestinians differ widely in their outlook for a peaceful resolution of their longstanding conflict and in their views about President Obama of the United States. Israelis, on balance, believe a way can be found for an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with their country. Palestinians, on the other hand, overwhelmingly do not think this is possible, and 45% believe the way forward is armed struggle rather than negotiations with 22% believing a combination of armed struggle and negotiations. While Obama, who visited Jerusalem and the West Bank in March, remains largely unpopular in the Palestinian territories, his ratings have improved markedly in Israel. The president enjoys the confidence of 61% of Israelis, up 12 percentage points from 2011. Palestinians, however, remain negative, with just 15% expressing confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs and in the peace process; and 82% saying they have little or no confidence in the American president.
A comprehensive survey on Israel’s image in 12 countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia and Germany and the Palestinian territories has some interesting findings. Israel’s image is overwhelmingly negative in the region; 86% or more in Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey have an unfavorable view. Israel also has few friends in France (35%), Germany (27%) and China (14%), where majorities express negative opinions of the Jewish state. The United States is the only country surveyed where a majority (57%) gives Israel a favorable rating. Despite their negative views of Israel, Westerners generally believe a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible. At least half in France, Germany, Britain and the U.S. think a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully. In contrast, the public in Turkey and in the Arab countries surveyed are skeptical that this is possible.
It is an exciting moment when your gut feeling is confirmed by a Pew Poll. It is even more exciting when the results change positively due to successful strategic communication including public diplomacy and citizen diplomacy. If Pew is not Pooh then it is time for Israel to invest more effort in making friends and influencing people to be more favorable to her policies and her existence.
Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.