Surprise, Surprise: Israelis Have More Confidence in Obama Than Ever Before

Pew Research poll also shows Israel as staunchly pro-U.S. and most supportive of its use of drones and surveillance in the fight against terrorists.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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U.S. President Barack Obama, Washington, December 7, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama, Washington, December 7, 2013.Credit: AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The fact that Israelis are one of the most staunchly pro-American people in the world is not new. But that their confidence in Barack Obama’s ability to handle world affairs climbed dramatically in 2014 to reach an all-time high? That will surely surprise and confound both supporters and detractors of the U.S. president.

Nonetheless, these are some of the findings included a new poll on global attitudes released this week by the Pew Research Institute. According to the poll, 84% of Israelis have a favorable view of the United States, second only to the Philippines, with 92%, among the 44 countries surveyed.

More surprisingly, 71% of Israelis now have “confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs”, a 10% increase over last year. The new figure is the highest it’s ever been in Pew’s annual survey, and is significantly more than the 56% that Obama garnered in 2009 and his low point of 49% in 2011.

It should be noted that while the poll’s findings were released this week, the field research in Israel was conducted in April and May, before the outbreak of the current conflict in Gaza. 1000 Israelis, who comprise a representative sample of the Israeli population, were surveyed in face-to-face interviews.

Israel also stands out – emphatically, though far less surprisingly – as the country that is most supportive of U.S. policies on the use of drones “to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” 65% of Israelis support such use of drones, one of only three countries – the others are Kenya (53%) and the U.S. (52%) – in which more than half the population is favorably inclined. In more than half of the countries surveyed, the U.S. drone policy is opposed by over 70% of the population.

Israel also leads the world in support for American spying on suspected terrorists, with 90% of Israelis supporting their monitoring – compared to only 73% in the U.S. itself. In the wake of the NSA spying scandal, however – and possibly thinking of themselves – a solid majority of Israelis oppose U.S. monitoring of foreign citizens (82%) and foreign leaders (81%) as well as American citizens (65%).

While the steadfast Israeli support for America and its policies is shared by other countries in Europe and Asia, it stands in sharp contrast to Israel’s Middle East neighbors. Only 10% of Egyptians have a favorable view of America, along with 12% of Jordanians, 19% of Turks and 30% of Palestinians. Confidence in Obama is also very low in Arab countries: 13% in Palestinian territories, 17% in Jordan, 19% in Egypt, 24% in Turkey and 27% in Lebanon.

The poll also reflects growing global respect for China’s ascendance as the world’s premier superpower: 50% of those surveyed worldwide expect Beijing to eventually replace the U.S. as number one, compared to 41% in a poll conducted in 2008. Asked about their view of China, Israelis were split, with 50% describing themselves as unfavorable and 49% as favorable. (Japan, with a whopping 91%, was the country with the most unfavorable view of China.) At the same time, 62% of Israelis said that China’s growing economy is good for the Israeli economy.

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