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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

French sympathies swing towards Israel

Ten days ago, I ran a story from the Jerusalem Post in which I asked, "Is Europe finally getting it"? In that story, I noted the change in attitudes in Europe towards the 'Palestinians,' and said that while it had not yet translated into support for Israel, it was at least translating into a more neutral position. In particular, I cited France, a country with a large Muslim population:
The Post reports that support for aiding the 'Palestinians' has dropped precipitously. This has not yet translated into backing for Israel, but the polls of "opinion elites" are significant enough that Stanley Greenberg, who worked for both Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, has been here for the past several days briefing Israeli leaders. Greenberg said that the shifts in the polls were so dramatic that he re-did some of them to make sure they were accurate.

He singled out France as the country where attitudes had changed most dramatically. Three years ago, 60 percent of French respondents said they took a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of that 60%, four out of five backed the Palestinians. Today, by contrast, 60% of French respondents did not take a side in the conflict, and support for the Palestinians had dropped by half among those who did express a preference.

Greenberg said the figures were still being finalized, and so did not go into further details. But shifts such as these, he said, represented "an incredible pace of change," with significant consequences.

Tonight, there is stunning news from France:

A Pew Research poll now indicates that the French public is equally dividing its sympathies between the Palestinians and Israel. The latest Pew Global Attitudes survey shows sympathies in France to be equally divided among the public, with 38 percent placing their sympathies with the Palestinians and the same number placing their sympathies with Israel. This compares with four years ago, when French respondents to the survey sympathized with the Palestinians over Israel at a roughly two-to-one ratio, 36 percent sympathizing with the Palestinians compared to 19 percent placing their sympathies with Israel.

"I've always said that the sympathy quotient toward Israel was always much stronger than we imagined, notably in the (French) provinces and outside the intellectual milieu," said Jean-Yves Camus, of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations.

Al-AP reports that he suggested that two events, the November 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the illness of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, might be contributing factors in the change of heart.

The French media and the elite, which tend to set the tone, put a more positive light on Sharon once he suffered an incapacitating stroke in January, Camus said.

With Arafat's death, "lots of opinion-makers, journalists realized" his role in the deadlock of peace negotiations and in the Palestinian Authority's internal problems, Camus said.

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