Poll: Netanyahu beats Assad as least popular Middle East leader

Poll: Netanyahu beats Assad as least popular Middle East leader

Pew survey finds sharp dislike for prime minister in region, while Israelis show little love for Saudi King Salman despite reported secret cooperation

A Kuwaiti demonstrator burns a poster of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a demonstration in front of the National Assembly in Kuwait City on December 9, 2017, against US President Donald Trump's recongition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. (AFP/Yasser Al-Zayyat)
A Kuwaiti demonstrator burns a poster of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a demonstration in front of the National Assembly in Kuwait City on December 9, 2017, against US President Donald Trump's recongition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. (AFP/Yasser Al-Zayyat)

People across the Middle East view Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a more negative light than any other Middle Eastern leader, including Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who has presided over a nearly seven-year civil war that has seen hundreds of thousands killed, created millions of refugees and thrown the region into turmoil.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and released Monday, an overwhelming number of Jordanians, Lebanese, Tunisians and Turks view Netanyahu “very unfavorably.” The poll also found that Israelis take a dim view of Saudi Arabian King Salman and have a generally unfavorable attitude toward his kingdom, though they have little beef with the leaders of Jordan and Egypt.

In Jordan, with which Israel has had ties since 1994, 95 percent of the population said they view Netanyahu very unfavorably, with only 1% viewing him “somewhat favorably,” a number that has stayed mostly steady since 2013.

Similarly, in Lebanon, 97% view him very unfavorably and zero favorably at all.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference announcing a new reform for small businesses at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s lack of popularity is likely a reflection of general regional opposition to Israel, though his right-wing government and what many in the Arab world see as the prime minister’s hard line refusal to enter into peace talks with the Palestinians have made him particularly reviled.

Netanyahu’s office declined to comment but the prime minister himself has often played up his successes in expanding Israel’s diplomatic portfolio and cache in the world.

Yet the poll showed that even in Turkey, where ties resumed last year after several years of strained relations, he continues to be disliked, despite the formal détente between Jerusalem and Ankara. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a relentless critic of Israel.

In that country 63% view Netanyahu very unfavorably, with 7% viewing him favorably and 14% unknown. The number is a jump from 2015, when only 44% in Turkey didn’t like Netanyahu, 9% saw him somewhat or very favorably and 25% did not know.

In contrast, in Tunisia, 64% view him very unfavorably, down from 83% in 2013, though some of that increase comes from a nine-point leap in those without opinions on the Israeli leader.

Countries were not surveyed on their own leaders as part of the Pew project, but opinion polls in Israel have shown the four-term prime minister losing some support amid a raft of alleged corruption scandals, but still widely popular at home. Surveys in Israel consistently show Netanyahu as the most favored choice as prime minister.

The Pew poll numbers make Netanyahu far and away the most reviled leader in the region, beating even the Syrian dictator who has gassed his own people and is widely reviled as a war criminal.

Syrian soccer fans hold a portrait of their president, Bashar Assad, before their match with Iran during a Round 3 – Group A World Cup qualifier at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran, September 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Turkey and Tunisia are the only places where a comparative percentage of the populace views both Netanyahu and Assad with disregard, though in both places, the Syrian dictator’s popularity runs in the low double digits, putting it several points above Netanyahu.

Like with Netanyahu, Assad has gained in popularity in Tunisia, while in Lebanon support for Assad remains highest, though it hews closely to Sunni-Shiite lines.

In Israel, 92% view both the Syrian dictator and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani unfavorably and Erdogan is disliked by 83% of the populace.

The leaders of Israel’s other two allies in the region, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Jordanian King Abdullah, were both rewarded with higher ratings in Israel than anywhere else polled. The survey found 44% viewing Sissi favorably, and 43% finding what to like in Abdullah.

Sour on Saudis

Israel is also the place where Saudi King Salman has the least support. Only 14% view him somewhat favorably, zero find him very favorable and a whopping 76% find him somewhat or very unfavorable, despite reported growing covert ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh.

Though Israel and Saudi Arabia have no formal relationship, Netanyahu has touted growing cooperation with Sunni Arab states, chief among them thought to be Saudi Arabia.

The two countries are at the forefront of opposing Iranian hegemony in the region and Riyadh has reportedly considered forging diplomatic relations with Israel before a peace deal with the Palestinians is finalized.

Saudi’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud waits for Lebanon’s Christian Maronite patriarch prior to their meeting on November 14, 2017, in Riyadh. (AFP/Fayez Nureldine)

Yet Israelis were the most likely to take an unhappy view of the Kingdom, with 74% regarding it unfavorably. The numbers however have been dropping since 2007, when 89% responded negatively on the country. In 2015, the number was 83%.

Israeli were also most likely to express skepticism over the idea that the US plays a more important role in the region than 10 years ago. Only 48% thought Washington had gained in influence, while the percentage thinking that elsewhere was between 58% and 64%.

US President Donald Trump speaks during the swearing-in ceremony for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on December 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Israel’s attitude to the US as weaker than in the past is likely a product of the view that President Donald Trump has ceded influence in Syria to Russia and Iran, over Jerusalem’s protestation. Some 64% of Israelis believe Russia is more important now than a decade ago and 53% believe that about Iran.

As for Israel gaining influence, less than half in the region think the Jewish State is rising, though the number climbs to 54% when asking Israelis or Jordanians.

The poll was conducted via face to face interviews between February and April. The number of people polled per country varied from 1,000 to 1,500.

Join us!
A message from the Editor of Times of Israel
David Horovitz

The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.

Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.

Become a member of The Times of Israel Community
read more: