Writing on behalf of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and its contribution to this Friday’s important ten-country survey, “What the World Thinks of America,” Shmuel Rosner defined the two essential conditions behind the Israeli public’s support for the current regime in the White House: “Israel loves every U.S. president not perceived as being demonstratively hostile towards it,” Rosner explained, and “Israel loves the U.S. president because he holds the umbrella that protects it from its enemies.” (“Loving the man with the umbrella,” Oct. 15.)
(Quick aside. Received in some circles as a revelation (though it really shouldn’t have been), Dov Weisglass, a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, made a number of provocative comments to Haaretz recently about the real purpose behind the Sharon “Disengagement” Plan for the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. Perhaps the most-often repeated of Weisglass’ remarks was that the “significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process.” Likening this Plan to a “bottle of formaldehyde” (he may as well have added the American President’s so-called Road Map to the list, and everything the ridiculous Quartet has ever managed to accomplish with respect to it, too), Weisglass explained that the Sharon Plan “supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”—thus placing Sharon and his Plan squarely within the mainstream of Israeli-American relations for the past three decades or more. Later in the interview, Weisglass added: “[W]hen you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” (“The Big Freeze,” Haaretz, Oct. 8.) But Weisglass also made two other comments during his Haaretz interview that were even more rare, and we had better preserve them here and now, in our own little bottle of formaldehyde, before they wither away and disappear without a trace. Alluding to the role played by the American Government in the management of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Weisglass called the Americans the “master of the world,” able to “pound on the table” and make their words a reality. And, later, congratulating himself over his invention of the device for “freezing” all talk about a Palestinian state, Weisglass noted that he had come upon this device “in cooperation with the management of the world“—a nice way of referring to the weight the Americans have in world affairs. The “lessons for Palestinians are clear,” Haaretz commentator Ze’ev Schiff recognized. With the master of the world firmly behind the Israeli Government, “support for the road map peace plan is nothing more than lip service; Israel will continue to establish facts on the ground. There is no chance of achieving political change except by the use of power and violence, as happened in the Gaza Strip.” (“Hijacking the disengagement from Sharon,” Oct. 15.) As sure as the night follows the day.)
But I digress.—Apologies.
Shmuel Rosner’s take on the Israeli public’s support for the American Government—no matter which Party holds the White House, according to him, and dating all the way back to the Ford Administration—interests me because, of the people living in the ten countries surveyed for “What the World Thinks of America” poll, only two of the ten, the Israelis and the Russians, reported that they would like to see the Bush regime returned to the White House for a second term, and only the Israeli public expressed this desire by a two-to-one margin (50-24 percent in favor of Bush over John Kerry, Russian opinion on this question splitting 52-48 percent in favor of Bush). (#1, “Would you prefer to see the election of George Bush or John Kerry on November 2?“)
As a matter of fact, when people from each of the 10 participating countries were asked this very question, “Would you prefer to see the election of George Bush or John Kerry on November 2?” their responses broke down as follows (note that the first column of numbers refers to Bush, the second to Kerry):
Australia 28 54
Britain 22 50
Canada 20 60
France 16 72
Israel 50 24
Japan 30 51
Mexico 20 55
Russia 52 48
So. Korea 18 68
Spain 13 58
Average 27 54
Overall, these and the other results from today’s poll “show that in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Spain and South Korea a majority of voters share a rejection of the Iraq invasion, contempt for the Bush administration, a growing hostility to the U.S. and a not-too-strong endorsement of Mr. Kerry,” The Guardian reported. “The 10-country poll suggests that rarely has an American administration faced such isolation and lack of public support among its closest allies.” (“Poll reveals world anger at Bush,” Oct. 15).
The degree of hostility expressed across 8 of the 10 countries surveyed—including Britain and Australia, it is worth noting—towards the Bush regime and the American (as well as British and Australian) war over Iraq is striking. “If the world had a vote,” the editorial voice of The Guardian concluded, “the result on November 2 would not be in doubt.” (“The world backs Kerry,” Oct. 15.)
Not so among Israeli and Russian public opinion, however. Indeed. Haaretz, one of the ten national news media particpating in today’s poll, reported this morning that although “hostility toward President George W. Bush has reached new heights internationally,…Israelis…are alone in their support of the American president.” (“International poll: The world opposes Bush, except Israel,” Oct. 15.)
Of the 21 questions that comprised this opinion survey, here are seven of them, along with the overall findings, and the findings for the Israeli public specifically (i.e., where available—and note that Russian public opinion was undeniably influenced on a short-term basis by the horrific events in early September in the North Ossetian city of Beslan, which occurred just before the poll was taken):
(1) Would you prefer to see the election of George Bush or John Kerry on November 2 (i.e., Bush/Kerry)?
Average 27 54
Israel 50 24
(5) Over the course of the past two or three years, has your opinion toward the United States improved or worsened (i.e., improved/worsened)?
Average 20 57
Israel 40 26
(6) Were the United States wrong in invading Iraq (i.e., right/wrong)?
Average 25 68
Israel 68 26
(10) Are the United States respected internationally (i.e., yes/no)?
Average 46 50
Israel 61 36
(11) By their actions, do the United States contribute to maintain world peace (i.e., yes/no)?
Average 52 45
Israel 61 38
(16) Do the United States wield excessive influence on international affairs (i.e., yes/no)?
Average 78 17
Israel na na
(17) Does the influence of American culture threaten your own culture (i.e., yes/no)?
Average 57 39
Israel na na
Some of these questions are slippery, and I’m not too crazy about them. Nevertheless. What these and several of the other 21 questions in this particular poll were angling after was an estimate of the public’s perceptions of the nature and the scope—and, more important, of the uses and abuses—of American Power in the contemporary world. And it is more than a little interesting that where pluralities, and sometimes overwhelming majorities, of public opinion in so many other countries hold that American Power either is a problem or has been used problematically, in one country in particular this happens to be a minority opinion.
And so the two states which, for years, have frozen the Arab-Israeli conflict dead in its tracks, thwarting all hope of a negotiated resolution to it, thus keeping this malignant conflict alive, festering and metathesizing inside-out until it affected not only the whole Middle East region but pretty much the entire world, stand shoulder to shoulder, beside each other in today’s poll. One state demonstratively not hostile towards the other, and willing to go right on holding the umbrella that protects it from its enemies—its absolute worst enemy, of course, being itself. And the other state, firmly convinced that there is something good to be found in serving the master of the world.
“America’s Place in the World,” The Guardian, October 15, 2004 (This webpage provides links to each of the ten news organizations that participated in the international survey.)
“Global Public Opinion on the U.S. Presidential Election and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Program on International Policy Attitudes, September 8, 2004 (and the accompanying Media Release)
A Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution To the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, April 30, 2003
Letters Exchanged Between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President George W. Bush, April 14, 2004
“President Bush Commends Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s Plan,” The White House, April 14, 2004
Disengagement Plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, April 16, 2004
“Hijacking the disengagement from Sharon,” Ze’ev Schiff, Haaretz, October 15, 2004
“The Bush-Sharon Pact: The Logic of Escalation,” ZNet Blogs (the old ones), April 15, 2004
“Facts on the Ground,” ZNet Blogs (the old ones), April 19, 2004
“The Rationale of Unilateralism,” Znet Blogs (the old ones), April 25, 2004