Poll: Israelis Appreciate America, but Obama – Not So Much

According to a new Begin-Sadat Center survey, support for a military attack on Iran dissipates if Washington does not go along with it.

AP

An overwhelming majority of the Israeli public values the country’s relations with the United States, regards Washington as a loyal ally and believes that America will come to Israel’s aid against existential threats. But only a minority says that President Obama has a positive attitude towards Israel and most Israelis believe that his policies have weakened America’s position in the Middle East.

Nonetheless, American support for a theoretical Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations is apparently critical for the Israeli public: without it, the majority that would support such an attack in case of diplomatic failure turns into a minority.

These findings are part of a comprehensive poll conducted by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar Ilan University in advance of a two-day seminar, America’s Standing in the World: Image and Reality, that will convene in Ramat Gan on Monday.

According to the poll, conducted among a representative sample of Israeli adults, 96% of the Israeli public believe relations with the U.S. are important or very important; 74% say Washington will come to Israel’s defense at an existential “moment of truth”; and 73% believe America is a loyal ally to Israel, with 21% saying that Washington’s allegiance is only “so-so” and 5% that it is no ally at all.

52% of those polled think that the U.S. supports Israel because of the strategic partnership between the two countries; 32% ascribe it to “the political prowess of American Jews,” but only 5% to the “shared values” that politicians on both sides usually extol. Another 1% thinks that the U.S. supports Israel because of the religious beliefs of Evangelical Christians.

44% of Israelis believe that the interests of the two countries are “identical”, 34% say that they are “more or less” the same and 20% believe that the interests are “very different.”

According to the poll, Israelis believe that 23% of American Jews feel “very close” to Israel and another 54% feel “close.” However, Israelis are less optimistic about the future: asked to predict how American Jews will feel about Israel in the future, only 18% said they would feel “very close” and 44% said “close,” a drop of 16% compared to the present.

Relations with the U.S. come in a close second behind Israel’s military power as a critical factor to Israeli security. 95% value Israel’s military, 91% close ties to Washington, 82% cite the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and 80% put their trust in a security presence in the Jordan Valley. Only 62% view a peace agreement with the Palestinians as vital but a lower figure still – 48% - attaches significance to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Most Israelis – 64% – believe that the American position in the Middle East has gotten weaker since Obama took office, compared to only 11% who say it has gotten stronger. Only 38% believe that the current U.S. position is strong. The U.S. gets mediocre marks, at best, on its handling of Middle East challenges: 51% say Obama’s policy towards the Palestinians is bad, compared to only 17% who commend it and 30% who are neutral; the same is true, more or less, for Iran (49% good, 16% bad, 33% neutral) and ISIS (46% bad, 25% good and 26% neutral). 37% believe that Obama himself has a positive attitude towards Israel, 37% believe it’s negative and 24% view it as neutral.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the other hand, gets a passing grade from Israelis for his handling of relations with the U.S: 41% say he’s handled them well, 34% believe he’s handled them badly and 20% are neutral.

On Iran, 41% believe Israel should attack the country’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails while 37% say it shouldn’t. But if Washington objects, the numbers are reversed: only 35% support an attack under those circumstances and 42% oppose it. And it is not Iran, but terror that is considered the number one threat to Israeli security: 88% cite it as “a significant threat to Israel’s existential interests.” It is closely followed by radical Islam (79%), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (79%) and a nuclear Iran (75%).

Finally, the demographics of the poll also reveal the uphill battle awaiting the Israeli left in the upcoming elections. Asked to describe their own political views, 22% said right-wing, 29% said center-right, 18% center, 13% center-left and only 11% as left.

Israeli Arabs comprised 13% of the polled sample of 529 adults. The maximum sampling error in the poll is plus-minus 4.5%.