An EU commissioned poll, which found that 59% of Europeans view Israel as a threat to world peace, has sparked outrage from Israeli authorities. The poll, entitled “Iraq and Peace in the World” was conducted on behalf of the European Commission (EC), the executive branch of the European Union (EU). Amongst other questions, the survey published on Monday asked 500 people in each of the EU’s 15 member countries which nations presented a threat to peace in the world. Israel came in first, the second place was shared (53% each) by Iran, North Korea, and the United States.
Israel hinted that anti-Semitism lay behind political criticism of Israel in Europe. “The European Union, which shows sensitivity on human rights issues, would do well to stop the rampant brainwashing against and demonizing of Israel before Europe deteriorates once again to dark sections of its past,” said Israeli Diaspora affairs minister Nathan Sharansky.
Brussels was quick to distance itself from the poll, insisting that it did does not reflect the Commission’s thinking. Some even suggested that the poll did not indicate the real attitude of Europeans toward Israel. As the New York Times reports, many European politician’s joined Israel’s chorus about signs of anti-Semitism.
“Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose country holds the EU presidency, called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to express his ‘surprise and indignation’ over the survey results, saying the question had been ‘misleading.’
The results ‘point to the continued existence of a bias that must be condemned out of hand,’ European Commission President Romano Prodi said in a statement. ‘To the extent that this may indicate a deeper, more general prejudice against the Jewish world, our repugnance is even more radical.'”
Echoing Berlusconi, Prodi said that in part the results could be attributed to the way in which the questions were asked. The question about threats to world peace was presented with multiple choice answers and provided 15 nations to choose from.
“No countries should have been suggested. We will have to look at how the questions were asked and if they were partisan we need to see who was responsible,” he said. The question why the Palestinian Authority was not a possible answer was also raised, to which Commission spokesman Gerasimos Thomas replied that it was not included because it is not considered a country.
According to the EC, the survey questions are formulated by EC bureaucrats and not political bodies. The EC regularly conducts surveys entitled “Eurobarometer” about current affairs and pressing issues. EU officials Monday tried to downplay the significance of the opinion poll, stating that EU policies were not affected by poll findings.
“Surveys and policies are two different things,” Thomas said, “There are different factors making our foreign policies. Polls are polls and policies are policies.”
In every EU country a majority said they thought Israel is a threat to world peace. Displaying its trade-mark inability to deal with criticism, Israel’s mission to the EU claimed that such results were not Israel’s problem but first and foremost Europe’s. The mission was also quick to assign blame, calling the survey biased and politically motivated.
“We are not only sad but outraged. Not at European citizens but at those who are responsible for forming public opinion,” Israel’s mission to the EU said in a statement that attacked the European Media. Israel’s desperate struggle for peace and security for its citizens is getting distorted beyond recognition by the one-sided and emotional coverage of the European media, Israel’s mission alleged.
However, as the BBC knows, not everyone’s judgement on the media was so harsh:
“…Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom appeared less disturbed by the findings. He said the poll findings reflect the greater press coverage of Israel than of states such as Iran and North Korea.
‘There’s no comparing the amount of media exposure Israel gets in Europe compared to Iran or North Korea. The images broadcast from here have an impact, but we should not get exerted by it,’ he told the Israeli daily Haaretz.”
Meanwhile the U.S. reaction to the poll was similar to Israel’s, but at least the U.S. left religion out. (Would be funny, though, if they had claimed the poll as evidence for anti-Christianity bias.) Instead of pausing to reflect on why public opinion in other countries view their country so negatively both countries reacted with angry defiance, incomprehension, and dismissal.
U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli rebutted the survey results and denied that the U.S. was a menace to world peace. The image Europeans have of the United States is very different from reality, he said, and continued with a Bush administration mantra: “What the United States is doing is motivated by a desire to expand stability, expand peace and expand freedom throughout the world in partnership with its friends and allies.” He went on to describe how the U.S. (where the survey has gone virtually unnoticed in the media) plans to deal with this criticism: “The best way to deal with perception is to put out the facts as you know them and to state your policy and stick up for what you believe in and let your actions speak for you.” “I’m not criticising the Europeans,” Mr Ereli said.
“What I’m saying is that we are hopeful that as the facts get out, as we present our case, that the power of our actions will persuade those who may be skeptical.”
The survey report definitely offers fresh indications of deep hostility towards U.S. foreign policy. 68% of Europeans think that a military intervention in Iraq was not justified. In Greece as many as 88% of the populations believe the U.S. to be a threat to world peace. Only in Italy and Germany, the view that the U.S. is no threat has small majorities. Even the populations of Spain (61%) and the UK (55%), the U.S.’s coalition partners in Iraq view the United States a global danger.