Poll: 85% of Israeli Jews want to keep fighting

Most want Gaza operation to destroy Hamas rockets and tunnels, University of Haifa survey finds

Israeli soldiers camouflage their faces at an army staging area along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)
Israeli soldiers camouflage their faces at an army staging area along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)

At least 85 percent of the Jewish public says the Israel Defense Forces operation in the Gaza Strip should continue until terrorists there stop firing rockets and all the tunnels from Gaza into Israel are destroyed, a poll done last week by the University of Haifa shows.

The survey indicates that Israel’s government has a strong public mandate to expand Operation Protective Edge, as it decided on Wednesday. The stated goals of the operation are to destroy the tunnels Hamas uses to attack Israel, stop rocket attacks and start the process of disarming the militant Palestinian group, which rules Gaza.

On a scale of agree greatly to agree somewhat, 91 percent of Israeli Jews support the ground operation in Gaza that began on July 17, 87 percent feel the operation is achieving its objectives, and just 4 percent think the operation was a mistake, the survey shows.

“The results reveal an extreme case of ‘rally around the flag,’ as we say in the study of public opinion,” said Yuval Feinstein, a sociologist who led the survey as part of a research project on Israeli nationalism. “People are closing ranks around the government, which has ordered a military operation. The feelings of patriotism are very high.”

Midgam Research & Consulting Ltd. and iPanel interviewed a representative sample of 1,007 Israeli Jewish adults online between Wednesday and Friday of last week. The margin of error was 3.2 percentage points.

Staying the course

Fifty-one percent of Israeli Jews think the operation should continue until Hamas is removed from power in Gaza. But it is unclear how most hope to accomplish this goal, since only 17 percent think Israel should reoccupy Gaza.

Ninety-nine percent greatly to somewhat support air strikes on Gaza, which began in earnest at the start of the operation on July 8.

Breaking the numbers down further, 86 percent of Israeli Jews think a cessation of rocket fire should be a condition for ending the operation, while 85 percent think destroying the tunnels should be a condition.

Though the IDF called up 16,000 more troops on Thursday, the Jewish public does not consider casualties on either side a decisive consideration, the survey shows. Just 7 percent of Israeli Jews think high IDF casualties – 56 soldiers had been killed as of Thursday afternoon – are a reason to stop the operation. Just 3 percent think the suffering of Gazans is a reason to end it. At least 1,364 Palestinians have been killed so far, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says hundreds of those are Hamas fighters.

In the midst of hard IDF fighting and fears of Hamas rocket fire and incursions, the survey paints a “blue and white” picture of Israeli society. Eighty percent of Israeli Jews take great pride in the IDF, and another 15 percent say they are proud of their army. Ninety-one percent are very to somewhat satisfied with how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is handling the operation. Less than 10 percent are dissatisfied.

Netanyahu’s overall approval rating among Israeli Jews has risen to 65 percent, according to the survey, a significant increase compared to surveys done before the operation.

Despite mounting international criticism of Israel, 73 percent of Israeli Jews are very proud of their nationality, and another 24 percent are proud or somewhat proud of it, the survey shows. Even more say they love Israel.

Us versus them

In the shadow of such patriotism, Israeli Jews display little patience for those who may see things differently, according to the survey. Nearly three-quarters strongly to somewhat agree that all demonstrations against the military should be prohibited during wartime. Just under half, agree or strongly agree that such protestors should be considered traitors.

Thirty-four percent of Israeli Jews agree or strongly agree that Israeli Arabs are not loyal to Israel, and a similar percentage feel they are a security threat, the survey shows. Only 12-15 percent are confident Arabs are loyal, non-threatening citizens.

“The indicators are that national chauvinism is on the rise,” said Feinstein. “Tolerance of the Arab minority, in particular, is low. There’s suspicion and even hostility. Many Israelis see them as a fifth column, basically.” Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population. Some of their leaders have vocally supported Hamas during the fighting.

While 84 percent of Israeli Jews think peace with the Palestinians is impossible or only possible many years from now, “two states for two peoples” remains the most popular solution to the conflict, with 42 percent support in the survey. The next most popular solution, supported by 20 percent, is the forced transfer of Palestinians to Jordan. Solutions involving the annexation of Palestinian territories – like those proposed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett – get less than 10 percent support.

Young people, aged 18-25, are more aggressively nationalistic than older generations, says Feinstein, reflecting a trend evident in previous years of polling, but they are slightly less enthusiastic about the Gaza ground operation, he says, possibly because they are the ones doing most of the fighting.

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