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Israeli Public Opinion and the Gaza Aid Flotilla Disaster

mideastA short time ago I did a piece on the impact of Israel’s Gaza flotilla attack on American public opinion. As I interpreted the numbers, there appeared to be serious questioning of Israel’s actions by a growing minority of Americans. It is now time to take a look at how the attack and its subsequent diplomatic crises impacted Israeli public opinion. A Princeton company called Pechter Middle East Polls has released their recent findings (June 11, 2010) and they show overwhelming, militant, support for Netanyahu and his government. Indeed, the debacle seems to have driven the Prime Minister’s satisfaction rating up rather than down.

The Pechter poll indicates that 84% of Jewish Israelis support the government’s attack on the flotilla and agree that all future ships bound for Gaza should be stopped "whatever it takes." Only 7% of Jewish Israelis say that aid ships should be let through. Just 22% of Jewish Israelis are willing to see "humanitarian aid shipments" of any sort go to Gaza. From a non-Zionist, outside point of view, this reaction appears harsh to the point of barbarism.
Six years ago I wrote an essay entitled "Orwell and Kafka in Israel-Palestine" (Logos, 3.1 Winter 2004  http://www.logosjournal.com/davidson.htm). In that piece I speculated about the Israeli worldview. I think what I wrote then still holds today and goes a long way to explaining the poll numbers reported by Pechter Middle East Polls. Here, with a bit of editing for the sake of space, is what I wrote in the winter of 2004,
"Israelis dwell in an Orwellian world of inbred perceptions and unanalyzed assumptions. These appear to make sense from inside Israeli society, but from the outside seem suggest that Israelis have lost touch with reality. The inside "reality" is dominated by the complex concept of fortress Israel–that is Israel against the world. This mental paradigm is assimilated from childhood and taught to you by your family and your teachers at school. It is a community belief, and thus reinforced by your neighbors, your coworkers, the newspapers, television and radio, and those with whom you do your military service. It is a constant part of your consciousness and defines patriotic thought.

"Yet the belief in fortress Israel is fraught with Orwellian contradictions. Here are some of the things this paradigm teaches (as against what reality looks like from outside of Israel): the Palestinian Arabs are eternal enemies and want to push the Jews into the sea (even though it is the Palestinians who are being slowly but surely pushed into bantustans or exile). Given half a chance the Palestinians can accomplish this new holocaust with the help of allied Arab hordes (even though Israel is the among the strongest military powers on the globe and is allied to the world’s only superpower). Arafat was the devil incarnate and also "the greatest obstacle to peace" (even though, since 1988, he had tried repeatedly to make peace with the Jewish state. All these efforts have been replaced in the Israeli collective memory by Arafat’s refusal to accept the treaty offered at Camp David II. Israeli rejection of all previous Palestinian efforts at peace have been forgotten). Israel is just a little place with "fragile" borders (which since 1947 have repeatedly expanded, as David Ben Gurion predicted they would). Only war can bring us peace (which characterizes the thinking and policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon [here we can readily substitute Natanyahu]. Finis opus coronat ("the end crowns the work).
"These beliefs approach the strength of a religious doctrine in Israel. They also restrict the range of thought, and narrow the possibilities for action for many Israelis. Thus, most have little or no ability to critically examine Israel’s behavior. Those few who, for a variety of reasons, do break free of these nationally sanctified blinkers and publically contradict accepted doctrine are seen as heretics or traitors and risk social isolation and the ruination of their careers.
"What we have here is tightly constructed thought collective made pathologically inbred by a closed information environment. The Israelis have bound themselves almost exclusively to internal references. These references are so self-serving that one’s major sources of information function like sycophants telling you only what supports and rationalizes your actions. Information that undermines or contradicts a priori points of view remain unseen, unheard, are summarily dismissed, or magically reinterpreted to fit the set parameters in one’s mind."
All of this goes beyond the generic rally around the flag reaction to an outside attack. The Gaza aid flotilla was not carrying any weapons and when perceived sanely represented no danger to Israel. Indeed, when perceived sanely, the Palestinians (including Hamas) represents no mortal "existential" danger to Israel. But objectivity has nothing to do with this. The Israeli reaction is a function of 63 years in an Orwellian world and we can probably push that back further for the Zionists in general. This also gives you a more nuance perspective on the ever more frequent pleas by sane Israeli Jews for rescue by the outside world.
This all suggests continued tough times. These deep set, ideologically driven thought collectives usually do not start to crumble except in the face of catastrophe. Only when all the assumptions that underpin your worldview are proven by harsh events to be unsupportable, will most begin to rethink them. That seems to be the path down which the Israelis are slowly moving. Let’s hope our own politicians are not so stupid as to take us off the cliff with them.

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