Poll: Israel threatens world peace

PARIS, Nov 4 (JTA) — If Israelis needed confirmation of their fear that Europeans have a negative image of the Jewish state, a recent poll has provided it. The poll, part of an opinion survey conducted for the European Commission called “Iraq and Peace in the World,” shows that more Europeans consider Israel a threat to world peace than any other country. Offered a simple yes or no response to the question of whether certain countries threaten world peace, 59 percent of Europeans answered in the affirmative about Israel — placing it at the top of a list that included Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Pakistan, among others. Jewish organizations and the European Union plan to organize a seminar to examine why so many E.U. citizens consider Israel a threat to world peace, the European Commission said Tuesday. Among the 15-member European Union, only Italy gave Israel a score lower than 50 percent. The highest negative scores came from the Netherlands at 74 percent, Austria at 69 percent and Luxembourg at 66 percent. Following Israel on the list of threatening states were Iran, North Korea and the United States — each with a 53 percent response. Iraq got 52 percent and Afghanistan 50 percent. Questions have been raised about the poll’s statistical veracity, since considerably fewer than 500 people were interviewed in smaller states like the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In addition, the poll’s margin of error rises considerably — as the pollsters, EOS Gallup Europe, freely admit — when the results hover around the 50 percent mark. The European Union initially attempted to downplay the poll’s significance. Many Israeli and Jewish leaders reacted with undisguised anger to the poll. Some of the strongest criticism came from the California-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. “These shocking poll results defy logic and demonstrate a racist flight of fancy that only proves that a systematic campaign vilifying Israel by European institutions, leaders and the media has embedded anti-Semitism more deeply within European society than in any other period since the end of World War II,” the center’s dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, said. Such results should disqualify the European Union from any future role in the Middle East peace process, he added. Similar reaction came from the Israeli mission to the European Union in Brussels, which said in a statement that Israel was “not only saddened but outraged” by the poll findings. “Europeans appear to be blind to the sufferings of Israeli victims” of terrorism, the statement said. The statement also criticized the manner and background in which the poll question had been asked, pointing out that “those who ask biased questions should face the consequences resulting from the biased responses they receive.” The survey, conducted among more than 7,500 people representing all 15 E.U. member states, principally dealt with European opinion regarding the aftermath of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and its implications for the European Union. It found, for example, that some 68 percent of Europeans believe military intervention in Iraq was “unjustified,” with Denmark the only country in the bloc to support intervention. The findings also show widespread support for E.U. involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq and for increased European input in the Middle East peace process, which 81 percent of respondents supported. In the states where opposition to the war was strongest, respondents generally didn’t perceive Israel’s neighbors as threats to world peace. This finding is particularly marked in the case of Greece, which gave considerably lower scores than the rest of its European partners for countries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea. Conversely, 88 percent of Greeks saw the United States as a threat to world peace, compared to 60 percent of Greeks who said the same about Israel. In an interview Sunday with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom referred to the tendency in the poll to place European Middle East policy within a wider geopolitical context. “This isn’t necessarily a matter of anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian; it’s a much broader issue of expressing views different from the U.S., to establish itself as a power,” Shalom said of the European Union and the poll’s findings. Nevertheless, European leaders clearly were worried by the implication that the poll reflected a negative image of Israel and Jews in Europe. European Commission President Romano Prodi said Monday that he was “very disturbed” by the findings, which he said reflected “neither the view nor the policy” of the European Union. The results “prove the existence of a preconception which should be condemned without hesitation,” Prodi’s office quoted him as saying. Italy, which holds the rotating E.U. presidency, was quick to condemn the poll. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the results had emanated from “an ambiguous question,” while Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi personally called his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon, to express what his spokesman said was “surprise and indignation.” E.U. leaders called the poll question deficient in that Israel was the only option for respondents to blame for the Middle East conflict — something the European Jewish Congress also pointed out. “By singling out Israel as representing the Middle East as a whole and excluding any mention of the Palestinians, those who commissioned the survey knew exactly what they were looking for,” the EJC said in a statement. “As any pollster knows, ‘the answer lies in the question.’ ” A European Commission spokesman said that the Palestinian Authority had been left out of the poll “because it is not a state.”The complete survey can be found at http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/flash/fl151_iraq_full_report.pdf

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