Polls and Palestinians

Polls and Palestinians


Howard Adelman

I still have to write about Justin Trudeau and his advisers on the Middle East, but I have been waylaid. Further, I want to answer a very thoughtful and considered response to my blog on “Palestinian Terrorism and Israel” sent by a reader in Florida. The comments follow. They were clearly written in one go, and were not edited for publication. The writer is quite learned and might be embarrassed to have the piece circulated unedited. I did notify him, and he is aware, that I would be re-circulating them, but without his signature.

Howard: I am typically a big fan of your blog, even when it clashes head-on with my right wing views. Unfortunately, this piece left me extremely disappointed – mostly that you would circulate the piece at all when it seems incomplete, at best, because you didn’t provide source material or proper context. I realize that you have limited time so I am asking too much, but if that is the case, you should aim for a more neutral conclusion, in my humblest opinion.

You refer to several polls to support the figures you accept as Palestinian attitudes towards extremism and violence and terrorism. However, there are problems with these surveys that most observers accept as unavoidable that skew most of the results in one direction, namely, to make the results seem like there is less support. 1. There is mistrust of the polling company and people do not want to be identified as a potential terrorist or sympathizer. 2. Depending on the language of the question, the person being surveyed may say they object to terrorism but may not accept that random acts of violence against jews in Israel is terrorism. As a spot on example of Palestinian view of the stabbings, Abu Mazen got up in front of an international audience and referred to the stabbing intifada – with all of the stabbings, shootings and vehicular homicides – as a “peaceful uprising.” Is this a widely-held view? That the attacks (which also include rock throwing which has resulted in multiple deaths) is a peaceful uprising? 3. The person being surveyed may not view the religious leaders of hamas as extremists. (I recently had a discussion with a reform jew who, for ease of definition we’ll call a muslim sympathizer. In the course of our conversation, I asked him what it meant to be a devout jew is and what it meant to be an extremist jew. He responded that attending synagogue on the high holidays meant a jew was devout and black hatters were extreme. Given my perspective as a modern orthodox jew who hangs out with a lot of black hatters, my definitions of devout and extremist are very different. So too with muslims (or any religion) – depending on the person being asked, the question and answer will mean very different things.)

With regards to your explanation of why people in mid-east countries view hizbollah actions in gaza unfavorably, your offer an explanation (that they must also view hamas unfavorably) without any support (though I’m not sure if this was your explanation or the poll’s or some third party’s). I would suggest that most countries in the middle east accept that hizbollah is a proxy of iran and view hamas as an independent entity, regardless of where its support comes from. Most countries in the Middle East are wary of Iranian influence spreading and therefore wouldn’t support hizbollah action anywhere.

You refer to “…a poll conducted by the Haifa-based research centre Mada- al-Carmel[.]” Including the description that Mada is “Haifa-based” makes it sound as if it is an Israeli institution. That is no less disingenuous than your complaints of Tawil. The ‘research centre’ doesn’t hide the fact that it is a center for advancement of Palestinian scholarship. Why would you imply otherwise?

You write that “But the punishment meted out to different types of terrorists also varies. Palestinian terrorists are often killed on the spot. Jewish extremists are not killed on the spot. In fact, most often they are not caught, and when, in high profile cases, they are caught, if one follows the results, the Jewish terrorists are often treated with greater leniency than Palestinian terrorists.” 1. You don’t give any examples of a leniency given to jewish terrorists; not only that, if there is a leniency, you give 0 context. For example, the houses of Palestinian terrorists are demolished, but those of jewish terrorists are not. The reason is so obvious, yet so often ignored by so-called human rights organizations: the PA gives economic incentives to any Palestinian that carries out a terrorist attack. The Jews that carry out the attacks have no sponsors. No one will parade their families around their cities or name streets after them or give their beneficiaries monetary pensions. 2. To say that Palestinian terrorists are killed on the spot but jews not without the context is an affront to the Israelis. There is substantial video evidence showing that the Palestinians do not ever drop their weapons even when confronted by police. On the other hand, once the jewish terrorists have committed their crimes, they do not attack the approaching police or soldiers. The execution of palestinians is one of the worst blood libels spread about Israelis that adds fuel to the western “progressives’” hate of Israel.

Also, you say that “a very significant minority of Palestinians do support such a [long term Palestinian goal of eliminating the Jewish state]…” though I cannot imagine that it is such a small minority. I’m not sure how much stock you put into this poll (http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/new-poll-shows-most-palestinians-for-practical-progress-tactical-compromise) but it was conducted by a palestinian polling company. Its results show “majorities in both the West Bank and Gaza still want to ‘liberate all of historic Palestine’ someday…” Half v. a small minority is a world of difference. Perhaps the polls you relied on show different, but without providing us with those polls, it’s hard to determine which can be taken as accurate.

I will ignore the initial flattery and focus on the criticisms. I will not respond in the order presented, but rather in the following order;

  1. Source material and skewed polls;
  2. Depictions or misleading depictions of Hamas and Hezbollah as well as Mada al-Carmel;
  3. Context, especially re differential punishment to Jewish and Palestinian terrorists;
  4. Specific interpretations and conclusions

Most of the criticism is about the distortions in polling and the use and misuse of polls and their results. Since that is largely what my blog was about, that is fair. I re-read my blog and, particularly near the end when I was summarizing a number of polls, I did not name those polls. This was simply because of space and time and the fact that I was providing an overall summary of a wide variety of polls. When I actually referred to the specific results of a poll, I cited the source, such as the Pew poll, or the Harry S. Truman-Palestinian joint poll.

However, my Florida reader is quite correct to point out some of the very many ways in which polls can be distorted. Polls do have implications on how a person self-identifies and how he or she wishes to be identified by another. The reverse is also true. Good polling tries, as much as possible, to take this into account lest Emerson’s comment that people only see what they are prepared to see become universal. The same tendency infects its correlate. How people wish to be seen tends to determine what they are prepared to reveal. But, of course, that is what is being measured, expressed beliefs and not what may be regarded as deep-down so-called “true” beliefs. How questions are worded, the terms used, the phrasing, the order of questioning, the confidence of the person polled in not being identified, and a number of other practices, dictate the degree to which polls are considered reliable. And even then, any poll is but a momentary slice concerning attitudes at a particular point in time. That is why it is important to select the best of pollsters and, even then, rely much more on tracking polls or comparing poll results over time than a single poll. But my blog was not about polling methodology, though it did refer to different polls as being more reliable.

However, as a generality, there is a dialectical interplay between what we perceive and how we want to be perceived and, therefore, the form in which communication takes place, including polls as one form of communication. The way we ask questions can shape the results to different degrees. And, as another truism, most people tend to be more charitable about their own views and more critical of the views of others with which they are pre-disposed to differ. One assesses the degree to which a person offsets either propensity over time to draw conclusions about relative objectivity. I try to earn my readers’ trust in that respect. Given the propensities of others, as well as myself, it is very hard to do given. We all tend to reify and reinforce what one believes through intensity and repetition, through comparing and contrasting, and through disparaging the views of others with whom you disagree while being more forgiving with one’s own views and those views which align with one’s own.

There are many other ways in which polls can skew results starting with who is polled. Thus, if polls are taken over landlines, such a poll will favour older people. Other polls will leave out the views of Haredi because many Haredi do not want to offer a response to secular pollsters. As stated above, “scientific” polls try to offset the above as well as the different degrees of willingness of different groups to respond. Older lonely people seem more willing to talk to pollsters. Wording of questions, particularly when using loaded terms like “terrorism,” is critical as is the sample surveyed. I never went into any of this since my blog was not a critique of polls as much as it was a critique of the use and abuse of poll results. Further, the more we are embroiled in politics, the more likely many are to use euphemisms or, even worse, call something in a 1984 inversion by something which it definitely not. Calling terrorists freedom fighters is a case in point. Calling someone but not another an extremist is another example.

Which brings us to one of the basic points. You write that a person may object to terrorism but not call random acts of violence terrorism – Abu Mazen may refer to the actions in the stabbing intifada as a peaceful uprising. I thought I made precisely that point, but perhaps my “conclusion” was not stated clearly enough. Palestinians in the West Bank where the polling was carried out overwhelmingly support the stabbings, rammings and shootings, but only about half of them – sometimes less and sometimes more – support a general effort at popular and widespread insurrection. Further, Palestinians in the West Bank (and more so in Gaza) clearly reveal their admiration of the acts of Palestinian terrorists. What is as interesting and more to your point – they do not even mind if the action is called terrorism, though political leaders such as Abbas (Abu Mazen) will not use that term. One possible interpretation: an overwhelming number want all the Jews pushed into the sea but think it is the better part of discretion to hide that fact. Another, and far more likely explanation, is that; a) they do not welcome the repercussions of a general insurrection; b) a bare majority, and sometimes only a significant minority, are willing to accept one version (perhaps only their version) of a two-state solution.

I cited the Pew poll to support the latter conclusion. I could have cited many other results, including my own conclusions when I visited the West Bank and conducted interviews over the last forty years. Since most of those who believe that Palestinians are lying and that they really almost all want the Jews pushed into the sea have, in my experience, never, and I mean never, talked to Palestinians in the West Bank. That alone is enough to distrust their conclusions. Further, those conclusions do not explain why those Palestinians are quite willing to support stabbers in overwhelming numbers, treat them as martyrs and name streets after them, but are unwilling to say they support the disappearance of Israel. Saying the former endangers them far more than the latter. Further, one must distinguish not so much between deeply-held beliefs and ones which one is more willing to express, but between beliefs one would like realized versus those realizable in the real practical world of politics. Most Palestinians may wish in their wildest dream that Israel did not exist, but in-depth interviews indicate that those willing to accept a compromise seldom total much over the 50% mark, but still constitute a very large number of Palestinians and, thus refute claims that Palestinians generally are simply not willing to live side-by-side Israel in peace. That only about half are willing to do so is worrisome enough without engaging in hysterical and unqualified statements that Palestinians or even most Palestinians want to push Jews into the sea.

Do a few, many, or most Palestinians regard Hamas as extremist? I think almost all reputable polls indicate that a significant majority do, many because they regard Hamas as a threat to themselves and what they believe. The more interesting factor is probably that, although Hamas was elected with a majority vote in Gaza, approximately two-thirds of Gazans now distrust Hamas and regard it in some sense as “extremist”. One problem is that an even larger number now distrust the Palestinian Authority, and Abbas in particular, not because he is an extremist or because he is a well-known dissembler, but because he is ineffective.

Did my blog engage in misrepresentation and depict organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah and research centres like Mada al-Carmel in a misleading way? I reread my blog twice more. I cannot see the reason for such an accusation. I did not anywhere, I believe, state that Hamas and Hezbollah were regarded as equivalent. You are correct. Hezbollah is regarded as more of a proxy of Iran than Hamas, but not so much, I believe, they are less dependent on Iranian support, but because Hezbollah and Iran both adhere to the Shiite form of Islam, and Hamas is Sunni. Further, Iran has blown hot and cold over Gaza, but its support of Hezbollah has been steadfast.

As for Mada al-Carmel, the name alone makes it clear that it is an Arabic Israeli research centre. But it is an Israeli institution, founded by Israelis in Israel by those who happen to be Palestinian. The implication of your response is that, because it is Palestinian, it is not Israeli. The members of the institution may want to project their identity as Palestinian, and not Israeli, but they are, nevertheless Israeli as long as they hold Israeli citizenship. When Jews and others imply the institution is not Israeli, this becomes a major concern of mine. It suggests that you, for example, do not regard Palestinians as Israelis. Perhaps I should have pointed out that the research centre was a Palestinian Israeli one, but I thought that was self-evident. This Arab Center for Applied Social Research largely focuses on studies of Palestinians within Israel. It is widely considered a respectable research centre and not simply a propaganda or advocacy centre, though its program of research has clear implications for advocacy. For example, its research had a direct impact on the formation of the Arab Joint List.

It is unequivocally an anti-Zionist centre of Israeli research. Nevertheless, the May 2014 poll results analyzed in its paper, “Attitudes of Palestinians in Israel,” which showed a clear majority of Israeli Palestinians believe that the current Israeli government discriminates between Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens in many ways – 74% believing that the Israeli government treatment of Jews is excellent whereas only 6% believe the Israeli government treatment of its Arab citizens is excellent. Would you have voted any differently in such a poll? The more interesting result, I thought, was that only 35% of those Arab-Israelis thought the Israeli government performance towards Palestinians was bad. A higher percentage of Palestinian in the West Bank regard the performance of the PA as bad. Note that a clear majority of Canadians, not 35%, regarded the performance of the Harper government as “bad”.

Given the subject of this blog and the issues you raised, one instigation for the formation of Mada al-Carmel was that Israeli-Palestinian opinions were underrepresented in general Israeli opinion polls and, therefore, did not adequately reflect Israeli-Palestinian opinions. Palestinians argued, with some justification, that the way questions were posed were often insensitive to or openly misunderstood the political and social issues of most concern to Palestinian Israelis. The results of Mada al-Carmel’s Survey Research Unit (SRU) that they have been producing since 2002 have generally benefitted all Israeli scholars, whether Jewish or Arab, quite aside from the political program of many of those associated with the Centre.

In 2010, the research centre took the Canadian government to court because the Harper government instructed IDRC, our International Development Research Centre, to cut its funding. IDRC had been a source of 40% of that funding. Like many of the actions of the Harper government towards research, the decisions were not the result of independent studies that indicated its polls were fallacious or did not meet international standards, but because of political interference reflecting the Harper government’s interference with any and all research activities in Canada whenever that research disagreed with the biases and political programs of the Harper government. I personally did not think that Mada had much of a court case, and probably did not launch the case to win. I have not followed the results, but the issue brought up the question of whether Mada’s polling was generally conducted according to internationally-based standards. Generally, though not without some criticism, its poll results were viewed as highly respectable. I did not go into this in my blog for reasons of space, time and because I took this to be generally known, perhaps erroneously.

Finally, on the issue of context and what probably inspired your ire enough to email me, has there been a difference in Israel’s treatment of Jewish terrorists versus Palestinian terrorists? This deserved a separate blog and you are correct that I should have not included this judgment without further support and explanation of context. Yesterday, an Israeli soldier, identified as Haredi in the press, perhaps indicating press bias, shot and killed a terrorist who had attacked three Israelis with a knife. (Though what is happening is frequently referred to as the Knife Initifada, in reality, victims have resulted not only from knives, but from stones, car rammings and guns.) At least six shots were fired in the video I saw on Israeli TV as I just finished reading the latest results of the trial of a Toronto police officer who shot and killed a boy with a knife in a streetcar, a boy who had not stabbed anyone, had allowed the passengers to disembark, a boy who was obviously deranged and who asked that the police be called, and who was shot at nine times. I would argue that none of the Israeli responses have been as horrendous and inappropriate as this one, but, in at least some cases in Israel, killing the assailant did not seem to be required under the circumstances, but one does not know for sure without more details. However, the proportion of assailants killed is worrisome. Look at the list during November. [For purposes of space, I generally omitted  names of victims, though I am reluctant to do so because it detracts from the horror. For the same reason, I have not listed December or October.]

In Johnston’s continuing compilation, in 2015 until mid-November, in 74 attacks, 49 terrorists were killed and 171 injured. In my compilation of the victims below, I roughly calculate that 14 were killed by Palestinian terrorists in November alone and 41 were injured. Of the assailants, 11 were killed, 5 captured and 3 escaped, though in some instances I was unable to easily ascertain what happened to the terrorist. In some sense, the Palestinian terror, though far more frequent and far more injurious than Jewish terrorism, now conforms more to the pattern of Jewish terrorism. Currently, Palestinian terrorism is rooted in socialization and horizontal networks rather than through hierarchical command structures as used to be the predominant case. On another point, there are no killings of Jewish terrorists that I know of, and the court case is currently proceeding against the three Israeli Jews who perpetrated the arson attack in August against the Dawabsha family in Eden Natan-Zada. In another case, the Jewish perpetrator of a terrorist attack that killed Palestinians ten years ago, stabbed several marchers in the Gay Pride parade soon after he was released, killing one girl. Jewish terrorism is less frequent, is almost always the product of Jewish extremists, and, as far as I have been able to learn, has never been officially condoned by Israeli officials. Rather, officials have dubbed such acts as terrorism and condemned them. On the other hand, I do not know of a Jewish terrorist who has been killed.

So I do not believe my conclusion was inaccurate, just poorly supported.

In any case, thanks for the feedback.

Terror Attacks Against Israelis by Palestinian Terrorists

29 Nov            2 stabbing attacks on a bus from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh, one against a Nepalese worker and another against an Israeli woman; none fatal and no critical injuries;  Assailant, a 17-year-old Palestinian captured

Ramming attack at Adumin junction; two soldiers injured; assailant killed

27 Nov 2 IDF soldiers injured in a ramming attack in West Bank

Border police officer stabbed in Nahariya Central Bus Station; assailant escaped

Ramming attack near Hebron; 5 soldiers injured; assailant killed at the same spot his brother was killed after ramming and injuring 2 IDF soldiers 2 days previously

Ramming attack at Kfar Adumim Junction; 2 soldiers injured

25 Nov            Samaria attempted terrorist attack; assailant killed

Mt Hebron attack; IDF soldier critically wounded; assailant killed

23 Nov 2 Israelis stabbed (Hadar Buhris 21 and Ziv Mizrahi 20) and murdered

Assailant shot and killed by Israeli security forces

Soldier murdered in stabbing attack on route 443; others injured; assailant killed

22 Nov 21-year-old Israeli woman murdered in Gush Etzion stabbing; assailant killed

21 Nov 4 Israelis stabbed in Kiryat Gat southern Israel; assailant escapes

19 Nov Two horrific incidents

Panoramic Office building prayer room – 2 killed and 2 injured; assailant escapes

Gush Etzion crossing – 3 people killed in a machine gun attack, 1 American, 1 Israeli and 1 Palestinian; (The Israeli victim was Rabbi Ya’acov Don, a 51-year-old husband, a father of four, and an educator who spent four years in Toronto as a Jewish studies teacher at CHAT in Toronto between 1996 and 2000.)

Assailant captured

13 Nov. Otniel Junction in West Bank gunmen attack car stopped at an intersection and kill a father and his son; wife and 3 daughters survive; man arrested two days later

11 Nov 11-year old and 14-year old Palestinians arrested for terror attack on the light rail system in Jerusalem; no serious injuries and assailants captured and admit they wanted to die as martyrs.

10 Nov attempted terrorist attack at Damascus gate; assailant killed

6 Nov 2 Israelis wounded in drive-by shooting in Hebron

8 Nov  6 Israelis wounded in 3 separate West Bank knife attacks

4 Nov border policeman killed

3 Nov 80-year-old injured in stabbing attack in Rishon LeZion, a suburb of Tel Aviv

Alleged attempted lynch attack on terrorist who was arrested

2 Nov 70-year-old man seriously wounded in Netanya stabbing attack; assailant “neutralized”

1 Nov 3 Israelis injured in car-ramming attack near Kiryat Arba; assailant killed