Israeli Public Opinion

Update from AIJAC

October 10, 2008

Number 10/08 #03

This Update features two pieces on the state of Israeli public opinion with respect, especially, to both the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and feelings about being Israeli.

First, the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre summarises various Israeli opinion polls to describe an emerging Israeli consensus on efforts to make peace with the Palestinians. This consensus includes a willingness to evacuate many but not all West Bank settlements in exchange for peace, but also contains strong scepticism about the willingness and ability of the Palestinians to make peace in the near future. The analysis also suggests growing problems, including some potential for violence, by those feeling marginalised by the consensus, especially on the right, but also on the left. For this good analysis of the relevant Israeli public opinion, and the fading of the Israeli left-right divide, CLICK HERE.

Next up, the Jerusalem Post summarises a new survey of Jewish Israelis on their patriotism. Over 90% said they considered themselves Israeli patriots, 92% said they were prepared to fight for their country, and 87% said they preferred living in Israel to any other country in the world. This short piece also contains some comment on the comparison between Israel and other countries in terms of patriotism. For the complete news story, CLICK HERE.

Finally, on a slightly different topic, top Israeli terrorism expert Dr. Boaz Ganor comments on an issue which has been much agitating Israeli public opinion of late – efforts to negotiate the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Ganor says of recent demonstrations in Israel designed to pressure the government to do more to get Shalit released that there is no reason to doubt the desire and commitment of Israeli leaders to bring Shalit home, the trick is to find ways to pressure Hamas, which holds him. He suggests that protests directed at the Israeli government may accidentally induce Hamas to raise its price or continue its recalcitrance, and points out some specific ideas that might do the opposite. For this comment by a top expert about a subject which comes up constantly in Israel, when and how to negotiate with terrorists, CLICK HERE.

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BICOM ANALYSIS:  06/10/2008


  • There is a growing consensus on national security issues among the Israeli public based on a willingness for territorial concessions, including the evacuation of some settlements, in return for a real peace.
  • The number of Israelis willing to evacuate all but the major settlement blocs in the West Bank in return for a permanent status accord with the Palestinians increased significantly between 2002 and 2007.  In 2002, the number of Israelis supporting this stood at 50%.  By 2003 it had increased to 59%, and it has remained steady in the four subsequent years.
  • The emergence of this consensus is leading to reactions on the fringes of Israeli politics. Major-General Gadi Shamni, the senior Israeli commander in the West Bank, has expressed his concern at the activities of an extreme fringe among Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who enjoy a ‘tailwind’ of support from ‘part of the leadership’ of the settlers, ‘both religious and public’. The increase in violent activity among both right and left-wing fringes in Israel reflects the fear and anger of these elements at the emergence of the consensus.


Major-General Gadi Shamni, commander of IDF forces on the West Bank, gave an interview over the weekend in which he expressed his concern at increasing violence among a fringe of extremist Israeli resident in the West Bank. The anger at the fringes of Israeli politics which Shamni referred to is a reflection of a less visible, but ultimately far more significant process currently taking place in Israel: namely, the emergence in the last two decades of a growing consensus in Israel on core national security issues.

This emerging consensus is based on concerns over demography, and a decline in ideological nationalism among the Israeli public, in favour of what is seen as a more pragmatic outlook. According to this outlook, the preservation of a Jewish majority in the areas under Israel’s control is of paramount strategic importance, and trumps the value of settlement throughout the land. In addition, the prospect of a real peace agreement with the Palestinians is also of greater value than the retention of all the West Bank settlements. This document will observe a number of public opinion surveys looking into Israeli views on the future of the West Bank settlements. The effect of the growing consensus in this regard on Israeli politics will be considered, and recent events will be observed in light of the evidence presented.

Opinion surveys

A study carried out by the Institute for National Security Studies of Tel Aviv University in July 2007 sought to gauge Israeli public opinion on matters of national security and looked into the views of the public on settlements.[i] Similar studies were carried out by the same body between 2001and 2006.   The studies questioned a representative sample of around 1,000 adult Jewish Israelis.  The number of Israelis willing to evacuate all but the major settlement blocs in the West Bank in return for a permanent status accord with the Palestinians increased significantly between 2002 and 2007.  (The great majority of Israeli residents of the West Bank live in concentrated blocs of settlements adjoining the Green Line and in the Jerusalem area. Most Israelis would expect these blocs to remain part of Israel as part of peace deal.)  In 2002, the number of Israelis supporting this stood at 50%.  By 2003 it had increased to 59%, and it has remained steady in the four subsequent years up to 2007.[ii]  It should be noted, however, that the figures for Israelis supporting the dismantling of all settlements east of the Green Line were much lower.  14% of Israelis in 2007 were found to be in support of such a position.[iii]

A survey carried out by the Ma’agar Mochot agency for the Peace Now movement in 2007 found 51% of Israelis in favour of evacuating some settlements in the West Bank in return for a final status peace accord.  On further breakdown of responses, the survey found 19% in favour of evacuating all Jewish settlements in the area.[iv]

Interestingly, the majority in favour of this option was not accompanied by a widespread belief in its imminent implementation.  Rather, the INSS survey noted a general pessimism with regard to the peace process.  While 44% of Israelis believed that Palestinians ‘wanted peace’, and 63% of those surveyed supported the idea of ‘two states for two peoples’, only 31% believed in the current possibility of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians. [v]

Rather than reflecting a general optimism regarding the peace process, the survey found that the increasing support for the dismantling of some settlements corresponded with growing demographic concerns, highlighted in the fact that in 2006, and again in 2007, for the first time an absolute majority of those surveyed listed ‘a country with a Jewish majority’ as the most important value in a list of four ‘values’ which they were asked to arrange in order of importance.  The other four ‘values’ on offer were: ‘Greater Israel’, ‘a democratic country’, and ‘a state of peace.’  The survey found that in 2007, 71%  of respondents put ‘a country with a Jewish majority’ as either first or second in their responses.  By contrast, only 29% put ‘Greater Israel’ in first or second place. [vi]

The consensus reflected in Israeli politics

The growing consensus on national security issues among the Israeli public is based on a willingness for territorial concessions in return for a real peace, accompanied by a very pronounced scepticism regarding the sincerity of the Palestinian leadership and therefore the likelihood that peace will be achieved in the near future.

In looking at the map of Israeli politics, it is immediately obvious that the Kadima party emerged as an attempt to reflect this centrist outlook.  Kadima, however, initially promoted a strategy of unilateralism as the ‘solution’ to this paradox which combines Israel’s willingness for concessions with scepticism regarding the possibility of a deal.  Unilateralism, because of the experiences of post-disengagement Gaza and the Lebanon War of 2006, has now sharply declined in public popularity.  But the core consensus which this idea sought to address remains.  Thus, not only Kadima, but also Labour and Likud, are forced to tailor their platforms and public stances in order to appeal to this consensus.  Likud’s manifesto of 2006 thus demanded ‘reciprocity’ for all withdrawals rather than rejecting territorial compromise per se. Labour leader Ehud Barak, meanwhile, has emerged as the current government’s most notable sceptic regarding the negotiating process with the PA – carving out for himself a more ‘hawkish’ position than that held by Kadima leaders Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. In this regard, it is also interesting to note outgoing PM Ehud Olmert’s recent interview in which he sought to both echo and reinforce the consensus by stating more firmly than ever that Israel should withdraw from most of the West Bank.[vii]

Rumblings on the fringes

The emergence of this general consensus on national security issues among the Israeli public is leading to reactions on the fringes of Israeli politics.  Over the weekend, Major-General Gadi Shamni, the senior Israeli commander in the West Bank, expressed his concern at the activities of an extreme fringe among Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Shamni put the number of these individuals in the ‘hundreds’, but said that they were enjoying a ‘tailwind’ of support from ‘part of the leadership’ of the settlers, ‘both religious and public.’  Shamni’s remarks came in the wake of a pipe bomb attack on the Jerusalem home of a prominent professor who has expressed his support for the evacuation of all settlements in the West Bank.  Professor Zeev Sternhell was wounded in the attack, which is thought to have been the work of Jewish extremists.  There has also been a general increase in the number of violent acts involving settlers in the West Bank.  A UN report numbered 222 acts of settler violence in the first half of 2008 – compared with 291 in all of 2007.[viii]

The existence of a right-wing extremist fringe opposed to all territorial concessions is not a new development in Israeli politics.  The presence of individuals committed to an anti-democratic, messianist outlook in some settlements especially in the northern Samaria region and around Hebron has been much noted.  However, there are currently concerns that a fringe within a fringe may be turning increasingly toward violence, out of concern at the possibility that the government may be considering withdrawals in the West Bank.

Sources close to the settlers confirm a sense of disillusionment in some circles in the democratic process. The disengagement from Gaza, whilst showing majority support in opinion polls at the time, and endorsed retrospectively by Kadima’s victory in the 2006 elections, was a policy which never received a mandate from the Israeli public at election time. The extreme fringe in any case does not believe in democracy. But the disengagement has probably contributed to their ability to make their case to a broader circle among Israelis in the West Bank.

The Israeli security forces have in the past months also expressed their concern at the involvement of Israelis from the fringes of the Israeli left in violent protests against the Security Fence.  A few months ago, an IDF spokesman bemoaned the fact that “week after week large numbers of security forces need to deal with Israeli rioters, who turned public disturbances into a regular occurrence.”  The statement was made after disturbances involving Israeli and international protestors in an anti-security fence protest in the West Bank village of Bil’in. [ix] The individuals involved, from the ‘Anarchists against the Wall’ group, are opposed to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

The two groups have also clashed with one another.  Thus, over the weekend, right and left-wing activists clashed in the Hebron area in two separate incidents.  A Ha’aretz journalist who was in the area is filing a police complaint against far-right activists who he claims assaulted him. One of the rightists has also filed a complaint, claiming that his wife was the subject of an assault.[x]


In contrast to the image once presented of Israel as a country split down the middle politically, Israeli public opinion is increasingly coalescing around a consensus on national security issues. As seen in the surveys noted above, a clear majority of Israeli Jews are in favour of territorial concessions and the evacuation of some West Bank settlements in return for a major peace accord. This willingness derives from demographic anxieties rather than optimism regarding prospects for peace. Expectations of the speedy implementation of such concessions are therefore low.

The existence of this consensus is raising the ire of forces within Israel who are opposed to it. On the far-right, some residents of settlements far to the east of the Security Fence feel themselves increasingly cut off from the national consensus. This is combined with the feeling of elements among them that since the disengagement, their voices will be ignored in the democratic process. A very small, hardcore anti-democratic far-right fringe has always existed in Israel and this fringe is over-represented in these settlements.  Current developments suggest that this fringe is increasing its violent activities.

On the fringes of the far-left, a similar estrangement from the consensus is also producing increasingly confrontational activities. Supporters of this group consider that the consensus in Israel is a sham – which is intended to hide a strategy of increasing settlements and rejecting all territorial compromise. Their activities include participation in violent demonstrations against the Security Fence, which have resulted in at least one case of severe injury to members of the security forces.

The growing consensus on national security issues among the Israeli public is of deep significance and has received insufficient attention in discussions of Israel. It produces little ‘noise’ and is less photogenic than the activities of the fringes. Nevertheless, those wishing to understand the real direction of Israeli politics and society would do well to pay it close attention.   

[i] Yehuda Ben-Meir and Dafna Shaked, “The people speak: Israeli public opinion on national security,”  Institute for National Security Studies, Memorandum no. 91, July 2007.

[ii] Asher Arian, Israeli public opinion on national security 2003, Institute for National Security Studies, Memorandum no. 67, October 2003.

[iii] Ben-Meir and Shaked.

[iv] Public opinion survey for peace now, by Ma’agar Mochot research agency, September, 2007.

[v] Ben-Meir and Shaked.

[vi]  Ibid.  The finding regarding demographic anxieties was later challenged by Dr. Aaron Lerner, who has claimed that Israelis were misled in this regard, and that particularly since the Hamas assumption of power in Gaza, such considerations are less urgent.

[vii] Donald Macintyre, “Israel will have to reinstate pre-1967 border for peace deal, Olmert admits,” The Independent, September 30, 2008.

[viii] Toni O’Loughlin, ‘Israeli army chief slams settler attacks,’ The Observer, October 5, 2008.

[ix] Ali Waked, ‘Top EU official hurt in Bil’in protest,’ Ynet, June 6, 2008.

[x] Tovah Lazaroff, “Journalists, activists clash with Ben-Gvir, settlers,” Jerusalem Post, October 3, 2008.  

© 2008 – BICOM

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Poll: Israelis remain proud and patriotic


Jerusalem Post, Oct 5, 2008 8:17 | Updated Oct 7, 2008

Israelis have continued to display resilience and optimism in defiance of Palestinian terrorism, the Iranian threat, political uncertainty and occasional economic downturns, according to the 2008 Survey of Patriotism among Israeli Jews.

In the survey, published by the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Herzliya Inter-Disciplinary Center, 92 percent of those questioned said they were proud to be Jewish, while 90% said they considered themselves patriotic.

Eighty-five percent said they opposed dividing Jerusalem in exchange for peace with the Palestinians, while 92% said they would actively engage in a military battle for Israel.

Despite the threats Israel faces, 87% of those polled said they preferred being Israelis than citizens of any other country; 86% said they would prefer living in Israel, even if Iran acquires nuclear weapons.

Eighty-three percent expressed support for the hoisting of the flag on Independence Day, while 90% said they were enraged when people act contemptuously during the nationwide siren on Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars.

In 2003, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago conducted the most comprehensive study of global nationalism in history.

It determined that America, with a similar level of citizenship satisfaction as Israel, was more patriotic than any other country in the world. This suggests that the people of Israel are currently among the international leaders in national pride.

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Put the heat on Hamas

Protests urging government to secure Gilad Shalit’s release counter-productive

Boaz Ganor 10.06.08

Recently we have been informed of a spontaneous group of Israelis getting together in order to press the prime minister to secure Gilad Shalit’s release. It is indeed heartwarming to see good people who feel the urge to get up and do something. Against the backdrop of the corruption and disasters that befall us frequently, it is pleasant to see our positive, humane side, in the form of mutual accountability.
Indeed, who can forget Gilad Shalit? Who doesn’t feel the heartache every time his name his mentioned or every time we see his parents, heroes who did not choose to be in this spot, on TV? Who doesn’t feel pangs of conscience over the fact that we’re going on with our lives while he’s rotting in Hamas’ hands? Who has not told himself, if this was my own son God forbid, I would do everything in order to bring about his immediate release?
However, is there any doubt that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would want, more than anything else, a farewell gift in the form of Shalit’s release? Wouldn’t Minister Tzipi Livni want to bring the abducted son back to his parents as one of the first acts of her new government once it is formed?
Olmert’s and Livni’s failure to secure Shalit’s release thus far does not indicate that they do not care about the Shalit family’s pain or do not possess the required measure of mercy and compassion. Rather, they believe that we cannot comply with Hamas’ extreme demands.
Israel has already announced that it is willing to release hundreds of terrorists from prison, including members of Hamas, a movement espousing Israel’s destruction. These terrorists include many murderers with “blood on their hands.” However, Hamas demands more. Israeli security officials apparently believe we must not comply with those demands in light of the great risk this would pose to the security of Israel and its citizens.

Hamas’ conscientious students adopted the doctrine of their Hizbullah instructors and are engaging in psychological warfare as an inseparable part of the abduction, using propaganda in order to prompt public pressure on our government. There is nothing Hamas enjoys seeing more than Israeli “protest movements” that urge the prime minister to immediately submit to the group’s demands.
Raising the price tag
However, all those who are anxious about Shalit’s fate should ask themselves whether such protest movements do not jeopardize him and all other Israeli citizens. Would Hamas show greater flexibility on its demands if it knows there is massive public pressure on our PM to accept its demands, or rather, if it finds out that our PM enjoys public support in respect to the negotiations? The protests merely raise the price tag and reinforce Hamas’ refusal to compromise.
Israeli decision-makers must learn the art of creating psychological pressure during negotiations from our Hamas and Hizbullah enemies. Israel should be the one to prompt the relatives and fellow citizens of Palestinian terrorists to exert pressure on Hamas leaders to promote the release of their loved ones from Israeli prisons. 

This objective can be achieved, for example, by airing a daily Arabic-language TV show featuring messages from terrorists Israel is willing to free in exchange for Shalit, while urging the families to facilitate their release.
Another option is to publish in advance the names of all the terrorists that Israel is willing to release, making it clear they are only staying in prison because of the stubbornness of Hamas leaders, who sit in lavish offices in Gaza or Damascus. Shifting the pressure from Israel to Hamas is the move that would bring about Gilad Shalit’s speedy release.
Dr. Boaz Ganor is the director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, IDC

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