The Shift: Netanyahu’s impact on support for Israel

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  April 20, 2023

Say what you will about Benjamin Netanyahu, but there’s no doubt he’s bolstering the anti-Zionist cause. Every week there’s a new group of pro-Israel voices prattling on about the country’s democracy crisis and publicly agonizing over the possibility that Bibi could be doing irreparable damage to its brand.

Let’s start with Democrats. Poll after poll shows that Israel’s reputation is declining among Democratic voters, despite the fact that most Democratic lawmakers are still staunch supporters of the country. Gallup’s annual poll on U.S. attitudes toward the Middle East found that 56% of Democrats view Israel favorably, down from 63% in 2022. 49% of Democrats said their sympathies lie with Palestinians, while 38% said they sympathize with Israelis. It’s the first time in the history of that poll that Palestinians ended up with more sympathy.

How much is Netanyahu contributing to this shift? It’s obviously difficult to quantify, but a new study from the Pew Research Center provides some insight. This poll tracks U.S. attitudes toward world leaders. Just 17% of Democrats have confidence in the Prime Minister, compared to 49% of Republicans. Just one out of every ten liberal Democrats have confidence in him. Pew notes that they didn’t poll enough Jewish Americans to report those results separately.

Netanyahu’s reputation might be secure with most members of the GOP, but when expanded across party lines, the numbers are fairly striking. 42% of Americans do not have confidence that Netanyahu will “do the right thing” in world affairs. Just 32% do. The remaining 26% say they have never heard of them. Mainstream media in the U.S. has been covering the country more as a result of the recent protests. If more people learn who he is in the coming months, where do you think they will land?

Moving onto Israel’s image as “The Start-Up Nation.” A survey of managers in Israel’s tech industry was published earlier this month by the non-profit Start-Up Nation Central. Nearly 80% of company executives said they had canceled meetings with investors since the unrest over Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul began. 84% of investors say the Prime Minister’s reforms will have a negative effect on their ability to raise capital from abroad.

Netanyahu dismissed the poll in an interview on CNBC. “Look, here’s what I think. I think the future, as I said, belongs to those who innovate,” he said. “I think the momentary fluff, the momentary dust that is in the air is just that — dust. The fundamentals of the Israeli economy are very powerful.”

Moody’s Investors Service says Israel’s shekel is hovering around a three-year low, and economic growth is projected to slow to 2.5% this year from 6.5% in 2022. IVC Research Center and LeumiTech say that Israeli tech firms raised $1.7 billion in 2023’s first and that’s down 70% from $5.8 billion in the first three months of 2022. It’s the sector’s lowest quarterly level in four years.

Sure seems like more than dust.

CNN makes reporters take down Facebook posts

Here’s one that has seemingly slipped through the cracks. Tamara Qiblawi is the Senior Digital Mideast Producer at CNN’s London bureau, where she’s worked since 2015.

Qiblawi is from Lebanon, which obviously means she’s well-acquainted with Israel’s human rights record. The year she got the gig at CNN she made a number of Facebook posts about the country.

At this point you know the drill. A pro-Israel site called “HonestReporting” (HR) dug up the offending posts and contacted the network about Qiblawi’s indiscretions. CNN replied to the complaint, defending her journalism but acknowledging that they asked her to take the posts down. She has since deleted all her social media accounts.

So what did Qiblawi post that was so offensive? First, she acknowledged the anniversary of the Nakba. “It’s the 67th commemoration of the Nakba, or the dispossession of nearly 700,000 Palestinians in order to make way for an ethno-religious exclusive state,” she wrote. “We remember in order to build again. Please take a minute to share and support this great initiative, launched today, by the American University of Beirut Libraries to compile an oral history archive of more than 800 people.”

Terrifying stuff. HR highlights the word “Nakba” and the phrase “ethno-religious exclusive state” as the problems here.

There’s another post where Qiblawi seeks further evidence about the Charlie Hebdo massacre being carried out by Muslims. She points out that a number of conspiracies have been declassified in recent years and names some. HR’s issue with this one is that her list mentions “the campaign to dispossess Palestinians in ’48.” It’s also highlighted.

The next exhibit HR shares is a Facebook comment from 2014. Qiblawi is actually criticizing the Syrian government in this one. “I’d like nothing more than to support a ‘resistance axis,’ but I cannot in good conscience support the Syrian army in any way. It’s not ‘liberal’ to denounce the Assad regime; it is conscientious. The crimes of the Assad regime are disgusting and they are very real. Can I reconcile my revulsion with a desire for resistance to the Zio-Saudi project? Probably not. Cognitive dissonance is better than denial.”

I am going to assume you can guess what got highlighted with this one.

Finally, HR shares a 2015 post about the anti-austerity protests in Greece. “In solidarity with the brave and beautiful people of Greece,” writes Qiblawi. “We ought to remember that on a week like this, 33 years ago, when Lebanon was facing the ruthless, genocidal onslaught of an Israeli invasion, Greece was the only country in Western Europe to unequivocally condemn Israel, the only one to extend diplomatic relations with the PLO, its people taking to the streets in droves to protest, opening bank accounts for relief efforts and donating blood to the Lebanese and Palestinians.”

Of course, the offending phrase here is “ruthless, genocidal onslaught of an Israeli invasion.” A survey of police and hospital records conducted by an independent Beirut newspaper shortly after the 1982 invasion found that 17,825 were killed and another 30,203 were wounded. That fall Judith Tucker wrote an article for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) on attempts by Israel and the United States to distort the numbers:

On June 23, Yaacov Meridor, the Israeli government coordinator of assistance to south Lebanon, told the Knesset that 250 people, “some of them terrorists,” had died in Sidon, a figure strangely at odds with the Israel Defense Forces’ “final figure” of 400 dead in Sidon given out at the same time. On July 5, Meridor reduced the number to a total of 231 Lebanese and Palestinians dead for all of Lebanon. By July 8, both Meridor and the IDF spokesmen agreed that a total of 331 civilians had been killed in Sidon, Tyre and Nabatiyya, although Meridor had just said, the previous day, that 1,200 “persons,” both “combatants and non-combatants,” had died in the camps. The Israeli consul-general in New York, Naftalie Lavie, told the American public that the Lebanese invasion had left 700 wounded and some 300 to 400 dead...

 While settling on a casualty figure, Israeli officials attacked the credibility of all those who dared suggest that casualties were indeed much higher. When the Red Cross chief delegate in Lebanon, Francesco Noseda, quoted Lebanese and Palestinian estimates as more or less accurate, the Israelis protested vehemently. Noseda was recalled by the Red Cross from Lebanon, an unusual move in a time of crisis. Foreign relief workers and medical personnel who agreed with these estimates were labeled PLO sympathizers or even “terrorists” themselves. When Chris Giannou, a Canadian surgeon who had been working in a hospital in Sidon, gave testimony belying the Israeli figures, an Israeli official charged that the doctor “was suspected of belonging to a European terrorist organization.” The Canadian government lodged a protest with Israel, calling the accusation “totally unfounded,” but Israel reiterated the charge without any further evidence or specifics.

 Attacks on individual credibility are nicely supplemented by recourse to racist caricatures of Arabs. A spokesman for USAID in Washington, when asked about the reliability of various casualty figures over the telephone, replied: “Well, you know Arab figures.” Writing in The New Republic of August 2, Martin Peretz, weary of the “relentless trolling of the PLO and its partisans about civilian casualties,” uses the old trick of reporting how his “Arab friend” in Jerusalem “coyly” told him that “Arabs exaggerate.” Peretz offers, as counter-evidence, the Israeli concept of tohar haneshek, the “morality of arms,” which apparently lays down “self-denying rules of what is militarily permissible” for the IDF. Peretz does not offer estimates of civilian casualties by any independent relief agency or organization that come even close to supporting Israeli figures. There are none.

So CNN gets a Lebanese employee to censor her past comments about these atrocities on her personal Facebook account, but is this enough for the folks at HR? Of course not.

“We were disappointed that CNN did not take any disciplinary action at all against a bylined journalist who reports on Israel and openly calls for its destruction,” said their executive director (and former IDF reserves spokesperson) Gil Hoffman. “Israel is clearly not an issue she can report on objectively. By letting this go without even a slap on the wrist, CNN missed a key opportunity to professionally safeguard its coverage of such sensitive matters.”

Odds & Ends

🇺🇸 Israeli Labor chair Merav Michaeli met with Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in DC. “During their meeting, Sen. Ossoff and MK Michaeli discussed the U.S.-Israel alliance, regional security in the Middle East, and relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Sen. Ossoff and MK Michaeli affirmed their mutual concern for peace, freedom, and stability in the Middle East,” read a statement from the Senator’s office.

* Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) is calling for the U.S. to sanction Israeli reserve military judge Dr. Maor Even-Khen for authorizing the detention of U.S. citizen, Jamal Afif Suleiman al-Niser.

“If the Biden Administration wants to protect Americans from arbitrary imprisonment overseas, it should demonstrate that there are consequences for foreign officials, like Israeli military judge Even-Khen, responsible for those detentions,” said Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, Director of Research for Israel-Palestine at DAWN in a statement. “If the administration wants that message to be heard universally, it should apply the same sanctions against officials of any country – especially partners like Israel – where U.S. citizens face arbitrary detention, and not just Russia, Iran and China.” 

Niser was first detained 2021 over accusations of involvement in the Palestinian elections. He was held for four months without charge or trial. He was released in October 2021, but Israeli troops detained him again in a pre-dawn raid on August 24, 2022. His administrative detention order is set to expire on April 22.

“The Israeli apartheid regime has shown yet again that not even U.S. citizenship or old age can protect Palestinians from abusive practices like arbitrary detention and restrictions on movement,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN. “We must remember that Jamal Niser is just one of over 1,000 Palestinians Israel is currently imprisoning without charge or trial.”

* Peter Beinart in Jewish Currents on the possibility of Israel carrying out another Nakba:

In mainstream American political discourse, such a prospect seems unthinkable. US government officials don’t acknowledge Palestinian fears of another Nakba. They more often treat Palestinians as a people that would be on route to independence if only they avoided “unhelpful” actions—like demanding international pressure on Israel— that leave them “further away from a two-state solution.” But when Palestinians claim that Israel’s long term goal is not Palestinian statehood but Palestinian expulsion, they aren’t hallucinating. Expulsion is deeply rooted in Zionist history, and the sentiment pervades Israel today, including among politicians and commentators generally viewed as centrists. Israel’s current defense minister, national security advisor, and agriculture minister—members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party—have all alluded to removing Palestinians from the country. While the pace of Palestinian expulsion has waxed and waned in the 75 years since Israel’s war of independence, there is reason to worry that the radicalism of Israel’s current government, combined with rising violence in the West Bank, could turn the current trickle into a flood.

*  It’s refreshing to finally see former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett grilled on mainstream television. This happened on PBS Newshour where Amna Nawaz had some tough questions on Palestinians. Here’s some:

NAWAZ: In the West Bank — in the West Bank, specifically, Palestinians do not have voting rights or access to government.

BENNETT: So, they do. They have voting rights for the Palestinian Authority and access to the government of the Palestinian Authority.

NAWAZ: But they do live under a military occupation of Israeli forces.

BENNETT: Only from a security standpoint. We have to defend ourselves. But, barring that, they have full freedom.

The huge majority of Palestinians are governed by the Palestinian Authority, vote for the Palestinian Authority, pay them taxes, are subject to their rules of law. I do admit that the P.A. is doing a fairly lousy job in governing. And, for example, they keep on postponing their elections.

NAWAZ: I will say, people and critics who watch the mistreatment and the unequal treatment of Palestinian and Israeli citizens there, some have written now that because Israel doesn’t treat all of its citizens equally, that it does not have shared values with the U.S. And they argue — some argue Washington should begin conditioning military and economic aid on specific measures to end military rule over Palestinians. What’s your reaction to that?

BENNETT: I think that would be a profound mistake.First of all, we do share common values. Israel is a full-fledged democracy. In Israel, we have about two million Arab citizens that they vote for the same Knesset that I vote for. Arabs enjoy full — the full rights that any Jew enjoys within Israel.

AMNA NAWAZ: Again, I’m not asking about Arabs or Israeli citizens.

NAFTALI BENNETT: Right. And we’re…

AMNA NAWAZ: I’m asking about the five million Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens.

“Bennett looked to be thrown by her questioning,” wrote Phil Weiss at our site. “He obviously intended to patch up relations with the U.S. establishment last night, pooh-poohing the contretemps between Biden and Israel and saying that Israeli democracy has been redeemed by Netanyahu’s decision last month under tremendous pressure to put off his judicial overhaul plans.”

* House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will lead a bipartisan congressional delegation to Israel this month and address their government. “Mr. Speaker, we are very excited to host you in your second home – the Knesset,” tweeted Knesset speaker Amir Ohana. “Thank you for your longstanding support for Israel!”

* Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports on a candidate forum with pro-Israel Democrats attended by Rep. Barbara Lee, who is running for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat in California. Here’s some highlights:

“I get pickets from every side of the spectrum,” she told attendees. “It’s like, ‘Barbara, why do you support the Iron Dome?’ Well, I’ve always voted for the Iron Dome. I’ve visited. I know how it protects Israelis, I know what it does, and so I’ve supported it. But people in my district, for the most part, picket me because of that.”

On Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul: “When you begin to erode a system of checks and balances and other critical elements of democracy,” she said, “I think it’s up to us in the international community to say this is a threat to democracy, not only in Israel, but everywhere. Israel is a shining light of democracy in the Middle East, and it’s like, ‘Come on, Mr. Prime Minister, this is wrong.’”

* Columbia University has plans to open a new learning center in Tel Aviv. A letter opposing the move was signed by nearly 100 members of the faculty.

* Netanyahu wants to appoint racist, xenophobic Likud lawmaker May Golan as Israel’s consul general in New York. In 2012 Golan told an anti-refugee gathering, “Outside my house I see shit and spit and psychopaths! You can see it in their eyes, people who just want to kill me. But nobody believes us. We’re racists. We’re racists because we want to preserve our lives and our sanity. So I am proud to be a racist!! I’m proud to be racist. If I’m racist to preserve my life, then I’m proud!”

Stay safe out there, Michael

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss