Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rendering public opinion irrelevant

One of the most striking aspects of our political discourse, particularly during election time, is how efficiently certain views that deviate from the elite consensus are banished from sight -- simply prohibited -- even when those views are held by the vast majority of citizens. The University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes -- the premiere organization for surveying international public opinion -- released a new survey a couple of weeks ago regarding public opinion on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, including opinion among American citizens, and this is what it found:

A new poll of 18 countries finds that in 14 of them people mostly say their government should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just three countries favor taking the Palestinian side (Egypt, Iran, and Turkey) and one is divided (India). No country favors taking Israel's side, including the United States, where 71 percent favor taking neither side.

The worldwide consensus is crystal clear -- citizens want their Governments to be neutral and even-handed in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, not tilted towards either side. And that consensus is shared not just by a majority of American citizens, but by the overwhelming majority. Few political views, particularly on controversial issues, attract more than 70% support among American citizens. But the proposition that the U.S. Government should be even-handed -- rather than tilting towards Israel -- attracts that much support. That's not an "anti-Israeli" view -- to the contrary, it's a position that America can and should resolve that violent, four-decades-long dispute by being even-handed rather than one-sided.

Similarly, when asked "How well do you think Israel is doing its part in the effort to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict," citizens around the world, by a large margin, believe that Israel is doing either "not very well" or "not well at all" (54% -- compared to 23% that say it's doing "very well" or "somewhat well"). And there, too, that worldwide view corresponds to American public opinion as well. 59% of Americans say Israel is doing either "not very well" or "not well at all" -- compared to only 30% that say it's doing "very well" or "somewhat well." And Palestinians don't fare much better worldwide (38-49%) and fare worse in the U.S. (15-75%).

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