Sydney Morning Herald, Opinion, 13 February 2012
Gareth Evans, the chancellor of the Australian National University, former head of the International Crisis Group and former foreign minister, is not giving up. He wrote in The Australian Financial Review last year that Australia should vote “yes” in the United Nations to Palestine becoming a full member. He was ignored. Kevin Rudd thought we should abstain but Julia Gillard followed the US-Israeli line and voted “no”.
Evans was back in the fight on Australia Day, using an address in Melbourne to lambast the Gillard government for not “repositioning Australia on the global stage” nor being a “decent and committed international citizen” on issues like Israel-Palestine, instead letting “domestic political considerations” rule foreign policy.
Labor’s official policy speaks of an “even-handed” approach, ensuring the freedom, security and independence of both peoples. But behind the scenes modern Labor leaders fall over themselves to reassure Israel of their allegiance – from Bob Hawke’s “emotional” meetings with Israeli prime ministers to Rudd having Israel “in his DNA” and Gillard’s close public association with the new Australia-Israel Leadership Forum.
But polls now show that while Hawke might have reflected Australian attitudes in the 1980s, in the 21st century Rudd and Gillard certainly don’t.
Individual polls can be misleading. It’s the trend of polls that matters. Occasional polls on Israel-Palestine were conducted by a small number of companies between 1946 and 1990. Over that 40-plus-year period, they tell us that: Australians were evenly divided on whether Palestine should be partitioned at all in the late 1940s; Australians supported Israel by a large majority in 1967 when it defeated Egypt and invaded and occupied the Palestinian territories; and Australians were pro-Israel in 1974, again by a large majority, following the 1973 war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan.
This support continued into the 1980s. A McNair Ingenuity poll in 1981 asked, “Are your sympathies … mainly with the Jewish people? OR mainly with the Arabic people? OR are they more or less equal?” (Results: Jewish people 28 per cent; Arab people 4 per cent; Equal 55 per cent; Don’t know 13 per cent.)
At least seven reputable polls have been conducted in the past decade touching on the question of Australian attitudes to Israel-Palestine. In 2003, 35 per cent agreed ”with American policy on Israel and Palestine”, while 39 per cent disagreed.
In two polls in 2006, sympathy was almost evenly divided between the two sides, with two-thirds in one poll saying their sympathies were ”equal”.
But in 2007, after the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, 68 per cent had a negative view of Israel and, in 2009, after the war in Gaza, 24 per cent sympathised with Israel, 28 per cent with the Palestinians and 26 per cent with neither.
In 2010, 55 per cent described the conflict as ”Palestinians trying to end Israel’s occupation and form their [own] state”, while 32 per cent preferred ”Israelis fighting for security against Palestinian terrorism”.
And last year, while sympathies were almost evenly divided, 63 per cent were against settlers building on occupied land and 51 per cent thought Australia should vote ”Yes” for Palestinian statehood at the UN, compared to 15 per cent ”No” and 20 per cent ”Abstain”.
I am listing here only polls from private polling companies with established reputations in the specialist field.
The overwhelming trend shows a sharp swing since the 1980s against Israel’s image and actions among ordinary Australians. The fact of the current disjunction between government policy and public attitudes on the Israel-Palestine issue receives almost no publicity, unlike polls on Afghanistan. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to hide.
The Gillard government stood against Australian public opinion, against the former Labor foreign minister from the Hawke government, against its own foreign minister’s plea to at least “abstain”, against the arguments of that conservative bastion of opinion The Economist, and against most of the world, but with the US and Israel in voting “no” to Palestine’s entry into the UN.
This snubbing of public opinion cannot last. Once upon a time, before the emergence of the Greens, progressive voters had nowhere else to go. Now they do. If Labor wishes to renew itself, it might start by listening to the views of its voters. And they are increasingly tolling the bell on Palestine.
Peter Manning is a journalist, academic and author of Us and Them: Media, Muslims and the Middle East (Random House, 2006).
1. Pollster: Roy Morgan Research. June, 2003.
Question: “Do you agree or disagree with American policy on Israel and Palestine?”
Results: Agree 35%, Disagree 39%, Don’t Know 26%.
2. Pollster: UMR Research for Hawker Britton consultants. March, 2006.
Question: “Generally, do you feel more sympathy towards the Israelis or the Palestinians?”
Results: Israelis 24%, Palestinians 23%, Neither/Both 33%, Unsure 20%.
3. Pollster: McNair Ingenuity Research. September, 2006.
Question: “What about you personally – are your sympathies – mainly with the Jewish people? OR mainly with the Arabic people? OR are they more or less equal?”
Results: Jewish people 13%, Arab people 10%, Equal 67%, Don’t know 10%.
4. Pollster: GlobeScan and PIPA Centre at University Of Maryland for BBC World Service. March, 2007.
Question concerns influences of various countries on the world.
Results: “Israel is viewed quite negatively in the world, possibly because the poll was conducted less than six months following the Israel/Hezbollah war in Lebanon… Large majorities also have negative views in Europe, including Germany (77%), Greece (68%) and France (66%). Indonesia (71%), Australia (68%) and South Korea (62%) are the most negative countries in the Asia/Pacific region. Brazilians (72%) are the most negative in Latin America”.
5. Pollster: Roy Morgan Research. May, 2009.
Question i: “Overall, do your sympathies lie more with the Israelis or the Palestinians?”
Results: Israelis 24%, Palestinians 28%, Neither 26%, Can’t say 22%.
Question ii: “In late December 2008, Israel launched a military campaign in the Gaza Strip, which lasted three and a half weeks. Israel’s stated aim was to stop Hamas’ or the Palestinians’ rocket attacks on Israel, and to stop arms being smuggled into Gaza via tunnels. Hamas and the Palestinians stated that the tunnels were only used to deliver food and medicines to the Gaza strip residents because the Israelis had failed to lift their blockade of the Gaza Strip. Before today, were you aware of that situation?”
Results: Yes 57%, No 42%, Can’t say 1%.
Question iii: “In your opinion, was Israel’s recent military action in the Gaza Strip justified or was it not justified?”
Results: Justified 28%, Not justified 42%, Can’t say 29%.
6. Pollster: Research Now, Griffith University. May, 2010.
Question ii: Which of the following best describes the Israel-Palestine conflict?
Results: Palestinians trying to end Israel’s occupation and form their state (55%), Israelis fighting for security against Palestinian terrorism (32%), Both Palestinian self-determination and Israeli self-defence (4%), Other (9%).
Question vi: To what extent do you agree Israel should withdraw from the settlements it has constructed on Palestinian land?
Results: Strongly agree 24%, Agree 53%, Disagree 18%, Strongly disagree 5%.
7. Pollster: Roy Morgan Research. November, 2011.
Question i: “Overall, do your sympathies lie more with the Israelis or the Palestinians?’’
Results: Israelis 26%, Palestinians 27%, Neither 21%, Can’t say 26%.
Question ii: ‘‘Israeli settlers have been building homes on occupied Palestinian land for many years. Would you say you support this activity?’’
Results: Yes 17%, No 63%, Can’t say 20%.
Question iii: “In September 2011, Palestine applied for full membership of the United Nations. This request is now being considered by the United Nations but Israel and the USA are opposed to it. In your opinion, should the United Nations recognize Palestine as one of its member States?”
Results: Yes 61%, No 22%, Can’t say 18%.
Question iv: “In order for Palestine to be recognized as a full member State of the United Nations, existing member Nations must enter a vote of ‘yes’, ‘no’, or they can ‘abstain’ from voting. In your opinion, how should Australia vote?’’
Results: Vote yes 51%, Vote no 15%, Abstain 20%, Can’t say 14%.
SMH Correction: ”Political stance on Palestine is out of step with public opinion” said Australians were evenly divided in the 1940s on whether Palestine should be partitioned. In fact the relevant Morgan poll asked whether immigration of Jews to Palestine should be limited, an issue on which Australians split 44 per cent for and 44 per cent against.
Roy Morgan Interviewing Services, Public Opinion Attitude Survey 2011, November 2011
Q1. Next about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How much would you say
you know about the situation? A lot or fair amount or not very much?
1 A lot 8%
2 Fair amount 36%
3 Not very much 52%
4 Nothing 4%
Q2. Overall, do your sympathies lie more with the #/Israelis or the
Palestinians/Palestinians or the Israelis/? (text rotated)
1 Israelis 26%
2 Palestinians 27%
3 Neither 21%
4 Can’t say 26%
Q3. Israeli settlers have been building homes on occupied Palestinian land for many
years. Would you say you support this activity?
1 Yes 17%
2 No 63%
3 Can’t say 20%
Q4. Is Palestine a full member state of the United Nations?
1 Yes 14%
2 No 44%
3 Can’t say 43%
In September 2011, Palestine applied for full membership of the United Nations. This
request is now being considered by the United Nations but Israel and the USA are
opposed to it.
Q5. In your opinion, should the United Nations recognise Palestine as one of its
1 Yes 61%
2 No 22%
3 Can’t say 18%
Q6. In order for Palestine to be recognised as a full member state of the United
Nations, existing member Nations must enter a vote of #/yes, no,/no, yes,/ or they can
abstain from voting. (text rotated)
In your opinion, how should Australia vote?
1 Vote Yes 51%
2 Vote No 15%
3 Abstain from voting 20%
4 Can’t say 14%
Q7. Now about the Gillard Labor Government’s handling of the Israel-Palestine
conflict. In your opinion, does the Gillard Labor Government favour the
#/Israelis,/Palestinians,/ favour the #/Palestinians,/Israelis,/ or favour neither? (text
1 Favour Israelis 25%
2 Favour Palestinians 5%
3 Favour neither 39%
4 Can’t say 32%
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Banksy, Break in the wall with a child and a sand bucket, August 2005