Saturday, December 12, 2009

Israelis Don't Hate Obama

According to popular wisdom, Israelis are very hostile towards Barack Obama. I have to admit that I bought into that notion myself. Most of my friends have a positive attitude towards Obama, or mixed feelings, but I had a feeling that the social circle I belong to isn't very representative of Israeli society. And indeed, whenever I talked to other people, let's call them non-academic types, they tended to hate Obama, or at the very least, they were suspicious of him. This seemed to be supported by a now discredited poll that claimed only 4% of Israelis support Obama.

A new poll shows I was wrong. Obama's approval ratings in Israel are quite similar to his approval ratings at home. When compared to Rasmussen's Dec. 11 poll, Obama's approval rating in Israel is just six percentage points lower than his approval rating in the States, but even more interesting is the fact that a higher percentage of Americans disapprove of his performance than Israelis: 51% compared to just 37%.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has a higher approval rating among Israelis than is widely believed, undercutting arguments he has lost Israeli public support for new peace efforts, a poll said on Thursday.

The poll by the Washington-based New America Foundation found that 41 percent of Israelis had a favorable rating of Obama against 37 percent who rated him unfavorably.

Despite this, 55 percent of Israelis polled said they thought Obama did not support Israel against 42 percent who said he did -- a reflection of the "complexity of views" about the U.S. leader as he presses both Israel and the Palestinians to resume stalled peace talks.

"They genuinely admire and like him ... but at the same time they also want to feel that he is in their corner, and they have concerns over this," pollster Jim Gerstein said in an email message.

Gerstein said that, in contrast to widespread media reports of low Israeli public support for Obama, the poll of 1,000 Israelis showed more support and solid backing for a possible future U.S.-brokered peace deal with the Palestinians.

"Israelis believe peace is necessary, but they currently do not feel a sense of urgency to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians," Gerstein said in his report, adding that Obama had a chance now to persuade Israelis it was time to reach an agreement.

"There are real opportunities for the president and his team to speak directly and convincingly to the Israeli people," the report said.

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