More Israelis like the EU than dislike it, poll finds
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More Israelis like the EU than dislike it, poll finds

56 percent of respondents would favor Jewish state joining the union; Israelis split on Brexit

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2015.  (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Nearly half of Israelis have a positive opinion of the European Union, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top politicians continually castigating it for being overly critical of Israel.

According to a survey released Tuesday by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German pro-EU think tank, 46 percent of Israelis have either a “somewhat favorable” (37%) or a “very favorable” (9%) view of the 28-member states alliance, while 43% look at the European Union unfavorably. Eleven percent have no opinion of the matter.

Furthermore, 56% of respondents said they would be in favor of Israel joining the EU, with only 34% opposed to such a move. (Fifty-four percent said they’d like Israel to join NATO.)

Among Israeli Arabs, support for the EU is highest: Three quarters of respondents had a positive opinion of the union, while 18% had a negative view. Among Russian-speaking Israelis, the EU’s approval rating is at 38%; among Hebrew speakers it rises to 42%.

In July, Netanyahu was overheard complaining to Central European leaders about the EU’s “crazy” policies toward Israel. “It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy,” he said in Budapest, referring to the EU’s insistence on conditioning some agreements with Israel on progress in the peace process.

PM Netanyahu and the leaders of the Visegrad Group — Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland — in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Other leading Israeli politician have likewise criticized the EU in recent years for an alleged pro-Palestinian bias and obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in light of Brussels’ 2015 decision to label Israeli products made in settlements outside the country’s internationally recognized borders.

Compared to a similar survey conducted in 2015, Tuesday’s numbers mark a slight increase (at the time, 45% of Israelis had a favorable view of the EU, one percentage point less than this year).

In the last decade, however, Israeli opinions of the EU have significantly decreased. In 2007, 60% looked upon the union favorably and only 34% had negative views. Three quarters supported Israel joining the union.

“It might not be sustainable and it might not be a reversal of the trend, but we were thrilled to see that after a constant drop of EU favorability in Israel this downward spiral has obviously come to an end,” said Michael Borchard, a political scientist with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, at a press conference Tuesday in Jerusalem.

“We found one explanation for this in another part of the survey,” he told The Times of Israel. “We asked if the EU will play a more-or a less-active role in a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians because of [US President Donald] Trump. Here a slight majority of 39 percent answered that the EU will play a more active role.”

According to Borchard, this shows that Israelis see a big difference between the US and the EU. “Trump is perceived to be a friend and ally, but one you can not really predict. The friendship with the EU might have cooled off but it is much more predictable. And it seems that the distant but predictable friend is more appreciated in Israel than the good but unpredictable ally.”

Nearly three quarters of respondents said they don’t consider the EU an “honest broker” between Israelis and Palestinians; 23 percent said they do. Less than half said they view Europe as a safe place for Jews, while 75% said the continent was safe for Muslims.

President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP / JOHN THYS)

“I was not surprised that Israelis regard anti-Semitism to be a major danger within the EU, though I was kind of shocked that 47 percent think it is dangerous for Jews to live in Europe,” Borchard said. “But given that fact I was totally surprised that at the same time 63 percent of the Israelis think that the EU is founded on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. I did not really expect this.”

The survey also showed that Israelis are split on Great Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Thirty-nine percent said they opposed Brexit, while 38% supported the step. A quarter of respondents had no opinion on the matter.

The poll, conducted for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation by Jerusalem-based Mitchell Barak of Keevon Research, Strategy and Communications, is based on telephone interviews with 1,000 Israelis. It was conducted in December 2016 and has a 2.25 percent margin of error.

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