Pollster, Stand to Attention

Soldiers are not allowed to hitchhike, but the IDF chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, allows himself to hop a ride on a poll called Omnibus, an odd combination: berry-flavored yogurt with a Cast Lead-flavored artillery shell.

It was a hot and muggy evening. The telephone rang. Caller ID was blocked. A female voice spoke. And it was a quiz: Miki, Miki and Gabi. Which was the odd one out? Those who answer correctly will be entered into a drawing for an air conditioner.

"I am speaking from the Shiluv ["combination" in Hebrew] Market Research Institute," the caller announced. "Perhaps you would agree to answer some questions on the subject of Channel 10, air conditioners and the army?" Absolutely, an interesting combination. If the Israel Defense Forces doesn't have combined staffs, at least it has a General Staff that employs Shiluv. Soldiers are not allowed to hitchhike, but the IDF chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, allows himself to hop a ride on a poll called Omnibus, an odd combination: berry-flavored yogurt with a Cast Lead-flavored artillery shell.

"What is your opinion of Channel 10? Was the crisis at the station the result of the stars' salaries or competition with Channel 2 or...?" Up to this point, Miki referred to Channel 10 newscaster Miki Haimovich. From here on, it was film producer Miki Rosenthal. "Did you see the film about the Ofer brothers and/or the Ofer brothers' response and/or the discussion...?" Miki twice, so what about Gabi? Not yet. It's time for the air conditioner. Which air conditioner manufacturer is the most well-known, the best, the one that deals with summer's discomfort best? Maybe, by chance, our client? Air conditioner, air conditioner, on the wall, who is the coolest of them all?

And now, finally, the cherry, the Duvdevan unit, of the IDF's West Bank division, the million shekels in the mattress, the grease in the hazing ceremony, the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. When the entourage of the chief of staff enters the survey playing field, the couch potatoes are asked to rise.

"What is your opinion as to the credibility of the IDF spokesman? From one to four, how would you rate the professionalism of the IDF Spokesman's Office? Are you lacking operational reports, articles about military exercises, stories about battle traditions? Equipment?" No, not the equipment itself. This isn't the quartermaster's store. There is no equipment here and won't be. This is just a survey. "Do the senior commanders, and with the chief of staff at the top, appear in the media too little, too much, or just the right amount?"

And now the cat's out of the army kitbag. The entire survey was designed to answer one fateful question: If the time has come to have Ashkenazi join Breaking the Silence. Two and a half long years after he assumed office, and four and a quarter short years before the October 2013 elections, is the chief of staff correct in the vow of silence that he imposed upon himself? Ashkenazi asks. The public responds. And that's his right, because Ashkenazi requests it, but the public pays. An open question, or maybe there is a motive behind it - to reinforce Ashkenazi's tendency with the scientific findings to be silent, and alternatively to convince Ashkenazi that the public is yearning for him to utter something.

The same public, the data which is ingested by the decision makers, amount to about 500 kind or bored respondents from among 4,000 to 5,000 people reached by phone. Those questioned are not at all similar to the average Israeli, who is suspicious, impatient and tired of the unwanted phone calls and recorded messages, and who slams polls, according to the pollsters. Only one in eight or 10 is good enough to nod in agreement and respond with an answer, by the way, by staring at the dog or petting the television, or the opposite, to help out the nice college student whose earning a living at the telephone call center. How trustworthy is the IDF spokesman? Four, four for sure. Oh, four is the lowest? So two.

This fictitious public, on whose opinion the officers rely in order to celebrate the prestige reflected in the polls, is far from representing the citizens of Israel in another important respect. The 500 in the battalion of sorts must be in the right age group, 18 to 49, or must lie and say they are in the age group. Ashkenazi, for example, is too old to tell the pollsters if he thinks Ashkenazi should talk. About half of the Israeli population is disqualified because they are too young or old. Maybe they are lost on the air-conditioning sales people. It's a shame that the IDF is also passing them up.

The pleasure is not expensive. Five hundred shekels per question, the hitchhiker's share of the cost of the trip with Miki and Miki and Tornado air conditioners to your sister. Ten questions, NIS 5,000, about the amount that Ashkenazi wasted on IDF gifts for Ehud Olmert on his way out of the Prime Minister's Office and into court. The IDF, it was once said, is not a listener request program. It's always fighting or getting ready for fighting, or analyzing the results of surveys asking the public what they think of the fighting.