This op-ed by Simon Plosker, HR’s Managing Editor, was originally published at The Times of Israel.
The latest annual Country Ratings Poll of the BBC World Service makes for grim reading. ThatIsrael finds itself in such dubious company as Iran, Pakistan and North Korea in this global popularity survey is shocking but unsurprising based on the results of previous years.
That unfavorable opinions of Israel have worsened since the 2011 survey should, however, be a cause for concern. The past year has thankfully not witnessed any events of the magnitude of the Mavi Marmara or Operation Cast Lead where Israel was the recipient of a torrent of negative coverage.
Yet, the proportion with negative views of Israel amongst those surveyed by the BBC poll increased by three points to the damning figure of 50%.
Should we care? Absolutely.
Canada, under the premiership of Stephen Harper is considered to be Israel’s best friend in the world at this present time, even more so than the US. Yet 59% of Canadians surveyed in the BBC poll harbor negative opinions of Israel. So evidently, it’s not the Canadian government that is affecting the Canadian public’s perceptions towards Israel.
Likewise, countries such as the UK and Germany that, while sometimes critical of Israeli policies, are still considered to be broadly supportive, show negative polling of 68% and 69% respectively.
If it’s not governments that are influencing public opinion on Israel, then the most obvious probability is that of negative or biased coverage of Israel in the media.
Israel’s enemies, including even terrorist organizations, recognized long ago that the modern battlefield is not only dependent on guns, tanks or aircraft but also on cameras and the written word.
Twenty-seven per cent of those with negative views of Israel answered that “how Israel treats its own people” was the most important factor for them. Israel is certainly not a police state which terrorizes its citizens. So how could the reality of Israel as a democratic society become so distorted?
The drip feed of stories of conflict or on Israel’s numerous imperfections is impossible to ignore while an incident such as that of IDF Lt. Col. Eisner striking a pro-Palestinian activist with his M16 only serves to reinforce this narrow perception of Israel.
Of course, in any democracy, it is the duty of the elected government to represent the will of the people. What will happen, then, if public opinion on Israel continues to be out of kilter with the opinions and policies of the political echelon? It doesn’t bear thinking about. If governments were genuinely representative of their publics, then Israel would be in severe trouble.
At what point will Israel become a political hot potato that no politician would dare express support for at the risk of alienating the voters?