Security Threatened: Surveying Israeli Opinion on Peace and War

By Johnston, Scott D. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1996 | Go to article overview

Security Threatened: Surveying Israeli Opinion on Peace and War


Johnston, Scott D., The Middle East Journal


Security Threatened: Surveying Israeli Opinion on Peace and War, by Asher Arian. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. xii + 271 pages. Appends. to p. 279. Notes to p. 287. Bibl. to p. 303. Index to p. 308. $64.65 cloth; $22.95 paper.

This book is the product of systematic surveys conducted under the auspices of the National Security and Public Opinion Project of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, of which the author, Asher Arian, is the director. Surveys of the adult Jewish population of Israel were conducted from 1985 through 1994, and previous attitude and election studies, dating back to 1962, were also cited. Security Threatened is a thoroughly first rate, comprehensive and insightful work and a milestone in the study of political attitudes.

A major theme of Arian's study focuses on Israeli attitudes, over a number of years, on peace and war. Arian assesses attitudes toward the war in Lebanon (1982), the Palestinian Intifada (uprising), during 1987-93, the 1991 Gulf War, and the Declaration of Principles (1993) with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Another theme revolves around changes in Israeli attitudes on nine security-related topics, including the status of the Occupied Territories, citizen rights for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Palestinian statehood, the PLO, the refugee problem, negotiation or confrontation, the international peace conference, security versus the rule of law, and the role of the Israel Defense Forces. The material on politics and elections breaks no new ground, but is useful for readers who are not very familiar with the Israeli political system.

The surveys demonstrate, not surprisingly, that the threat of war was seen by the public as a primary concern. Other concerns included fears about the possible loss of democracy, issues related to Arabs and the territories, and the specter of the United States ceasing aid to Israel. (Despite the high decibel level of the ongoing religious discourse between orthodox and secular communities, this was, interestingly enough, of lesser magnitude.) The great number of polls and their analyses frequently are packed together so tightly that the reader needs to plow through them carefully and methodically to absorb their import and follow the trends. Poll results vary from the more or less predictable to the surprising. Thus, in the latter category, while until 1994 between twothirds to three-quarters of the persons polled favored peace negotiations, that year, with negotiations underway, only 52 percent were in favor of peace talks.

Arian demonstrates that public opinion on security matters in Israel is malleable. Politicians who were seen as legitimate, such as Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and David Ben-Gurion, were seen as the strongest leaders by the public and could lead and shape public opinion.

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