Poll finds most Israelis see EU as a foe rather than a friend

Poll finds most Israelis see EU as a foe rather than a friend

Russia considered most important country for Israel after the US, new survey finds; 41% don’t want to visit any Arab country

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

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini gives a press conference after an EU-Tunisia Association Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on May 15, 2018.  (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini gives a press conference after an EU-Tunisia Association Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)

A majority of Israelis view the European Union as adversarial rather than friendly toward Israel, according to a new poll commissioned by a foreign policy think tank published Monday.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said they consider the EU “more of a foe,” while only 18% view it as “more of a friend.” Twenty-seven percent had no opinion on the matter.

Among Jewish Israelis polled, the gap is even wider: 61% have a negative view of the 28-member union, while only 16% said they consider it a friendly entity. Arab Israelis are split on the question: 27% of respondents said the EU was “more of a friend” and 25% said it was “more of a foe.” Nearly half had no opinion.

The poll was commissioned by Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, a left-leaning think tank based in Ramat Gan. It was carried out last month by the Rafi Smith Institute, which said it used a representative sample of Israel’s adult population (700 men and women, Jews and Arabs).

“The survey points to disturbing trends regarding neighboring regions,” said Nimrod Goren, the head of Mitvim. “Most of the public views the EU as an adversary of Israel and not as a friend, despite it being a major political, economic, civil and security partner of Israel.”

EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret said relations between Brussels and Jerusalem are “excellent” but acknowledged that the EU has a bad reputation in Israel.

“Perception and reality differ a lot: when you look at the facts, the relationship between the EU and Israel is excellent,” he told The Times of Israel on Monday.

“The EU is Israel’s first trading partner, bilateral cooperation is extensive in many areas, such as in transportation, industry and agriculture, but also in justice and home affairs. Cooperation on security issues, anti-terrorism and anti-Semitism are ongoing and we have started negotiations for Israel’s participation in Europol,” he noted, referring to an unprecedented agreement signed in June between the Israeli police force and the EU’s main law enforcement agency.

“The huge number of historic, political, economic, social and cultural connections between Israel and the EU are often overlooked or neglected in the discourse. The negative perceptions are most likely due to differences in policy which sometimes overshadow, in the public debate, the many areas where we see eye to eye,” Giaufret went on.

“We can certainly both do more to address negative perceptions, and to highlight that, in reality, this is an important and mutually beneficial friendship.”

EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret in his Ramat Gan office in December 2017. (Ariel Zandberg)

Less than a quarter of respondents to the Mitvim poll (23%) said Israel belongs more to Europe, while 28% said Israel belongs more to the Middle East, and 22% said the country belongs to the Mediterranean Basin.

Asked which foreign policy issue Israel should prioritize, respondents most often replied with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and developing ties with moderate Arab states ranking first (each 25%), followed by fighting delegitimization and boycotts of Israel (22%) and improving relations with Russia (20%).

The Iranian threat came in fifth, with 19% viewing it as most important. Only 17% said developing ties with Europe should be one of Israel’s top foreign policy priorities.

EU-Israel relations have long been fraught with tensions, as Brussels and Jerusalem disagree over the Iranian nuclear deal, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and West Bank settlements, and several other topics.

European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a media conference at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, December 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

According to the survey, Israelis considers Russia the “most important country” after the US, followed by Germany, Great Britain, China, France, and Egypt.

A large majority (70%) of Israelis think that, within the EU, Israel should develop closer ties with Great Britain, France and Germany. Only 7% preferred their government seek improve relations with the Visegrad group, which includes Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents believe that “regional cooperation between Israel and other countries in the Middle East” is possible, while 19% believe it is not possible.

Asked which Arab country they would most like to visit if it had “normal” relations with Israel, a plurality of 41% said they had no interest in visiting any Arab country.

Another 13% said they would like to visit the United Arab Emirates, while 12% said Egypt, 8% said Jordan, and 6% would like to travel to Lebanon or Saudi Arabia.

Miri Regev, center, visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi with UAE officials on October 29, 2018. (Courtesy Chen Kedem Maktoubi)

Israel has normalized diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan, though ties on the street level remain chilly.

The survey came out as Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev was making a first-ever state visit to the UAE for a judo tournament where Israeli athletes were allowed to display their national flag for the first time.

The survey also found that a majority of Arab Israelis (60%) believe the the controversial Jewish nation state law will have a negative effect on Israel’s foreign policy. Among Jewish Israelis, only 38% believe that to be the case.

Five percent of Arab respondents and 13% of Jewish respondents said the law would have a positive impact on Israel’s foreign relations.

The survey, which Mitvim produces annually together with the German Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, has a margin of error of 3.5%.

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