Fiddich Review Centre

Analysis: A Glass One-fifth Full, Not Four-fifths Empty

Israelis are reacting to reports of journalists getting hassled in Qatar, but missing the real story

Israeli reporters at the 2022 World Cup have been getting hassled in Qatar by crowds of fans from Arab countries, but the Israeli public misses the real story: Not the many in the Arab world who don’t like us, but the remarkable number who do.

Video from the streets of Doha has brought out the predictable from the Israeli right and left. With the right finding vindication in the gentiles’ perennial hatred of the Jews, serving conveniently as evidence of the futility of compromise to Palestinians or others. And with the left, too, reveling in its vindication, as the hostility on the streets valiantly showed the value of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to calm tempers.

All the while, both camps missed the big news: In the public opinion in the Gulf, Israel has striking achievements. The story is not of those in the Arab world who hate us. The story is of those who say they like us. 

This is the most important upshot from the most recent poll on Israel’s favorability among nationals in the Arab Gulf states. The poll was conducted by pollster Mitchell Barak’s KEEVOON Global Research with funding from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and was released as an exclusive on Middle East Now on i24NEWS.

Fayez Nureldine / AFP
Fayez Nureldine / AFPSaudi football fans react as they watch a live broadcast of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match between Poland and Saudi Arabia, in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

In the poll, Barak and KEEVOON asked nationals in a number of Gulf states if they had a favorable view of Israel. The results?

In Saudi Arabia, 21 percent favorable and 75 percent unfavorable. In Bahrain, 20 percent favorable and 72 percent unfavorable. In Qatar itself, some 46 percent of nationals had a favorable view of Israel. In the UAE, Israel’s favorability rating ticked in at a majority – a full 52 percent of nationals.

Numbers from the UAE and this particular result from Qatar are outliers in the Arab world. But even the findings from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (and broadly similar numbers further afield in the KEEVOON/KAS poll in Morocco and the Palestinian Authority itself) are reasons for Israel to feel proud and accomplished.

Yes, three-quarters of the public in Saudi Arabia say they see Israel unfavorably. But that means 21 percent have a positive view. Moreover, when asked by a pollster for an up-or-down view, more than five million citizens of Saudi Arabia give Israel a thumbs-up. One hundred years of conflict, a half-dozen wars, hundreds of terror attacks, thousands of rockets, too many dead. Decades of an iron curtain and relations brokered until recently by state-run media peddling hostility. And one-fifth of the public in at least large parts of the Arab world say “yes” to Israel.

Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFPFans of Saudi Arabia pose ahead of the 2022 World Cup Group C match between Saudi Arabia and Mexico at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, Qatar.

That is astonishing. The story from the poll – and similar research conducted by Mitchell Barak and KEEVOON – is one of tremendous success for Israel’s brand, which speaks to the potential for Israel’s standing in the Middle East. The Gulf states and other Arab countries have a critical mass in the public that looks favorably on Israel and wants to work with it. Five million Saudi citizens – equivalent to half the Israeli population – give Israel an “up” on that up-or-down vote.

In a bitter, unresolved, century-long ethnic conflict, the crowds of hostile Arab fans will ever be on the streets and pushing in front of the cameras. 

But remember that slice of Arab public opinion much larger than a sliver: a full one-fifth who affirmatively like Israel. The glass of Israel’s standing in the region that is not four-fifths empty but one-fifth full.

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