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A new study claims that European support for the Palestinian cause has fallen dramatically. Attitudes in France changed most dramatically:

Three years ago, 60 percent of French respondents said they took a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of that 60%, four out of five backed the Palestinians. Today, by contrast, 60% of French respondents did not take a side in the conflict, and support for the Palestinians had dropped by half among those who did express a preference.

I confess that I don't know what "dropped by half" means. I assume it means that only 2 of 5 support the Palestinians. Translating some of this into more manageable numbers, it would apparently mean that about 48% of French people supported the Palestinians previously, while only about 16% support them today. Of those who have an opinion, only about 12% of respondents supported Israel previously while about 24% support Israel today.

Among the factors cited for the shift:

* Rise of Hamas

* Disengagement plan of Sharon, which made Israel seem more reasonable

* Fear of radical Islam

Among the factors not mentioned, but which undoubtedly play a role:

* Riots in France, which were widely blamed on Islamism, rightly or wrongly

* Demise of Yasser Arafat, who was a symbol of the Palestinian "National Liberation" cause

* High price of gasoline, which is making Arabs a bit unpopular everywhere

* Assassination of Rafiq Hariri and Syrian interference in Lebanon - long viewed as a client state by the French, who have a special affinity to the Maronite Christian minority

* Holocaust denial of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and Hamas alignment with Iran

* Iranian nuclear program

* Courageous and uncompromising stands of German Chancellor Angela Merkel

* Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not "hot" - hence people are losing interest and do not maintain strong opinions

* A shift in the position of Arab countries, who do not back the Hamas government and the Palestinian cause as enthusiastically and uncompromisingly as they backed Yasser Arafat

* Chaos and lawlessness in Gaza seem to demonstrate that the Palestinians are not ready for self-government. A Palestinian state may not be a practical project.

It is important to understand that the Middle East plays a relatively minor role in the concerns of continental Europe and especially France. France has no soldiers in Iraq. Unlike Britain, it had no colonial interest in "Palestine." French journals have comparatively little news about the Middle East on a daily basis. Thus, the predominant finding is apathy - 60% of the people have no opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the US by contrast, only 33% did not express a preference, and 58% were pro-Israel.

This poll was taken among "opinion elites," according to the Jerusalem Post account. It is not clear how the respondents were chosen or whom they actually represent. It will be interesting to see if a more systematic polling method shows a reversal of earlier opinions, which had ranked Israel as the number 1 threat to world peace.

Given the large shift in opinion, which took place in a relatively brief time, it seems evident that the role of actual anti-Semitism in fomenting Israel hate that was seen previously is probably minimal. It is there in the background and may account for some anti-Israel sentiment, but it is not the decisive factor. Cries of "anti-Semitism" that greet every anti-Israel initiative are probably counterproductive.

It should be remembered that opinions and sympathy do not always translate into policy. Europe is dependent on oil, and much of that oil comes from the Persian Gulf.

It may be that the study asked the wrong questions. Israel and its supporters should not necessarily be trying to force Europeans to chose between Palestinian Arabs and Israel. Support for Israel need not exclude support for a Palestinian state or the Palestinian cause. It would be interesting to see what the results would be if respondents were asked to agree or disagree with statements like, "The Jewish people have the right to self-determination in their own state," regardless of sentiments toward Palestinians.

If European sentiment has changed so much for the good, how do we explain the success of the recent motions to boycott Israel at the recent NATFHE meeting? It is possible that the trend doesn't encompass Britain. It is possible that the NATFHE vote represents the work of an unrepresentative and activist minority. It is also possible that the NATFHE vote shows us what happens when people are forced to choose between Israel and the Palestinians. When we allow the issue to become "Palestinians versus Israel" we are falling into a trap set by of the anti-Zionists. They have been successful in propagating the idea that the existence of a Jewish state in principle must mean misery for the Arabs of Palestine. It is not true, and we mustn't play the game by their rules. The rise of the Hamas has pointed out the nature of of Palestinian extremism and its extent, alienating a great many Europeans. However, the Hamas is gaining a growing army of apologists and adherents, as the NATFHE boycott initiative demonstrates. It will continue to gain adherents as long as it can leverage on Palestinian misery, blame it on Israel, and insist that Palestinians will be treated unfairly as long as Israel exists.

The disengagement initiative helped Israel's image because it demonstrated to Europeans that they didn't have to chose between wiping out Israel and perpetuating the occupation on the one hand, versus eternal misery for Palestinians on the other.

Ami Isseroff

Jun. 3, 2006 23:03 | Updated Jun. 4, 2006 9:43
Palestinian support 'crashes' in Europe


New public opinion surveys conducted among "opinion elites" in Europe show that support for the Palestinians has fallen precipitously, according to a leading international pollster, Stan Greenberg, who has been briefing Israeli leaders on his findings in the past few days. There has not necessarily been "a rush to Israel" but there has been a "crash" in backing for the Palestinians, he noted.

Greenberg, a key pollster for president Clinton who also worked with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, conducted the surveys for the Israel Project, a US-based non-profit organization devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel.

Greenberg told The Jerusalem Post that the shifts in attitudes reflected in the surveys were so dramatic that he "redid" some of the polls to ensure there had been no error.

He singled out France as the country where attitudes had changed most dramatically. Three years ago, 60 percent of French respondents said they took a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of that 60%, four out of five backed the Palestinians. Today, by contrast, 60% of French respondents did not take a side in the conflict, and support for the Palestinians had dropped by half among those who did express a preference.

Greenberg said the figures were still being finalized, and so did not go into further details. But shifts such as these, he said, represented "an incredible pace of change," with significant consequences.

Until recently, he said, "It was hard for Israel to communicate its interests in its own name" in Europe. "It was hard for Israel to be heard. Nowadays, it is heard on its own interests, such as Iran and Hamas." Much of the "old sense of hostility," had dissipated, he said.

At the root of the change, said Greenberg, was a fundamental remaking in Europe of the "framework" through which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed.

Three years ago, he said, the conflict was perceived "in a post-colonial framework."

There was a sense "that Europe could cancel out its own colonial history by taking the 'right' side" - the Palestinian side. Yasser Arafat was viewed as "an anti-colonial, liberation leader." The US was seen as a global imperial power, added Greenberg, and the fact that it was backing Israel only added to the "instinctive" sense of the Palestinians as victims.

France, with the largest Muslim population - moreover an entirely Arab Muslim population - with the direct experience of Algeria and the most anti-US positions, was most prey to this mindset.

Today, by contrast, the Europeans "are focused on fundamentalist Islam and its impact on them," he said. The Europeans were now asking themselves "who is the moderate in this conflict, and who is the extremist? And suddenly it is the Palestinians who may be the extremists, or who are allied with extremists who threaten Europe's own society."

An increasing proportion of Europeans are concluding that "maybe the Palestinians are not the colonialist victims" after all.

Furthermore, the pollster said, the question of which side held "absolute," uncompromising positions had also shifted - to Israel's benefit. The sea-change in attitudes, he said, had been accelerated by the fact that former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who had been widely regarded as an ideological "absolutist," had surprised Europe with his disengagement initiative. And at about the same time, the Palestinians had chosen the "absolutists" of Hamas as their leadership.

An opinion poll for the Israel Project among "opinion elites" in the US released last month found that 80% believed that US should not fund the Palestinian Authority until its Hamas-led government renounced violence, recognized Israel and ended terrorism, 93% said Palestinian leaders must end the culture of hate that encourages children to become suicide bombers and 78% had a favorable view of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "realignment" plan. Asked if they considered themselves supporters of Israel or supporters of the Palestinians, 58% in that survey said they backed Israel, while 10% said they supported the Palestinians. Another 33% said they supported neither side, were undecided or didn't know.

Original content is Copyright by the author 2006. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000089.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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