Of Israel's major newspapers, Ha'aretz is the least friendly to the present government. It is also the most likely to criticize the lack of empathy for Palestinian interests that it finds among officials and the population.
The journalist who wrote a long article in the weekend edition could have been referring to colleagues when he described how the local media "threw fire and brimstone on the national leadership" in connection with the interdiction of the flotilla to Gaza. The same sentence repeated what several previous editions of the paper had emphasized, that "the world turned its back to us."
The article was short of a mea culpa, but reported a survey commissioned by the paper, and conducted by a reputable organization.
It showed a large majority (59% against 25%) feeling that the blockade of Gaza was more useful than harmful, and a similar percentage giving high marks to the national leadership as a result of the interdiction: 57%, as opposed to 37%. A higher percentage of the respondents indicated that they would vote Likud if there was an election now than actually voted Likud in the most recent election (33% against 27%). The combined vote of the left of center parties, Labor and Meretz, would decline to 13%, compared to 16% in the most recent election..
Respondents took a strong stand against the Arab Knesset Member who sailed with the flotilla, and was outspoken against the interdiction. Thirty-eight percent would revoke her citizenship and 34 % would remove some of her privileges as a Knesset Member. Only 11% would not punish her.
The author of the article was not happy with the results. He wrote in his opening paragraph, ". . . more such flotillas, more Turkish bodies floating on the sea, and Netanyahu's popularity will reach the level of his predecessor's during the the second Lebanon war." Then he was more hopeful about what might happen to Netanyahu. "But that did not last long. Olmert's fall was quick and painful."
One can exaggerate the importance of a survey, or the weight of a journalist who editorializes while writing a news story. The material in the article reinforces one's view of Ha'aretz as the country's best newspaper, read by the economic, political, and intellectual elites, but having to be filtered for a marked tilt to the left. It is no surprise that Ha'aretz put the story about the poll it commissioned in an inner section of the paper, rather on the front page where it has featured criticism of the blockade of Gaza and the operation against the flotilla.
The poll results ought to penetrate the awareness of Israelis and outsiders who are singing the songs of Israel stupid and evil.
There is not a population in another western democracy with the Israelis' experience of serving in the military, and being exposed to a constant flow of news and commentary about national security and how the country is viewed by others. In the case of the current survey, skeptics can say that support for national leaders generally increases during a crisis, no matter whether the leadership handles the crisis well or poorly. No doubt that most soldiers have a worm's eye view of military action, and former soldiers are even less aware of all the considerations that go into strategic planning. Yet compared to what other populations know about the Middle East, Israelis deserve a hearing.
That being said, current public opinion will not determine policy here any more than it does in other stable democracies. Elected officials and senior professionals make the the crucial decisions. They pay attention to public opinion, but also ponder a range of other considerations.
Popular views about the Arab MK who participated in the flotilla are unlikely to produce a Knesset majority in favor of revoking her citizenship. If some MK's do promote a campaign to remove her citizenship or expel her from the Knesset, they are not likely to overcome the weight of the Supreme Court's bias in behalf of free expression.
Except for explicit cases of Arab politicians dealing with the enemy in wartime, the Court has been more protective of them than of Jewish extremists. The Court did not act against a Knesset measure to deny Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach Party the right to run for election on account of incitement, while the Court struck down similar actions against an Arab party. A critic of the MK who sailed on the flotilla and other Arab MKs was not entirely off base when he asked how the United States Congress would respond to propagandists for the Taliban serving in the House or Senate.
No one in their right mind should expect the United Nations, or even J-Street to bend in response to an Israeli poll showing support for the Gaza blockade.
Perhaps we can hope that the leaders of other western democracies and commentators will at least pause in their rush to indict, and consider the possibility that Israelis may know their situation well enough to deserve a hearing.
Some of you may be optimistic.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem