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95 percent of Jewish Israelis support the Gaza war

A demonstration in support of the war in Gaza in Tel Aviv.
A demonstration in support of the war in Gaza in Tel Aviv.
Lior Mizrahi
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Globally — and even in the United States — Israel's military offensive in Gaza is incredibly controversial. But within Israel, a country famous for its fractious internal politics, Jewish public opinion is nearly unanimous: Operation Protective Edge, Jewish Israelis say, is right and justified.

The Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan Israeli think tank and polling outfit, conducts a monthly poll of Israelis on peace and security issues. Unsurprisingly, July's poll focused on the war in Gaza. It asked Jewish Israelis (Israeli Arabs were not polled), during both the air and ground phases of the campaign, whether they thought the Israeli operation was justified. It also asked whether they thought the Israeli Defense Forcers were using too much, too little, or the right amount of force.

The results are staggering. An average of 95 percent of Israeli respondents say they think the operation is "completely" or "moderately" justified. About 80 percent say it is "completely" justified. For some perspective, about 72 percent of Americans supported the 2003 Iraq invasion when it was launched.

Israeli discontent "spiked" — to about 7 percent — just before and at the launch of the ground invasion, on July 16–17. After the ground invasion was underway, on July 23rd, Israelis supported the war by a 97 to 2 margin.

Israeli_support_gaza_war

That support may have increased in part because Israelis came to believe the IDF had increased its level of force to what they wanted. Just before the ground war, when the campaign was largely air strikes, a majority of Israelis believed the IDF wasn't using enough force. Afterwards, the majority flipped to saying Israel was using the right amount. That's despite the fact that IDF casualties went up significantly after the ground phase began.

Israeli_support_gaza_ground_war

These levels of support are almost unheard-of numbers in a democracy, but they do match public support for Israel's last two wars in Gaza. Both the 2008-9 and 2012 (the latter of which was an air war only) operations enjoyed massive public support — though in the 2012 war, only 30 percent supported escalating to the kind of ground operation taking place today.

Why are these Gaza wars so popular with Israelis? Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel and the threat of Hamas tunnel incursions naturally play a role. Israelis feel like they're under attack from a militant group that means to destroy their country (even though it can't yet), and thus feel justified launching a military response.

In the long run, this anger at militant groups is making the Israeli electorate increasingly hawkish and skeptical of peace overtures from the Palestinians. After the peace process collapsed in 2000, followed shortly after by the Second Intifada and then the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Israeli electorate has empowered parties that have been skeptical of the peace process. There's pretty solid political science, broken down nicely here, demonstrating that rocket attacks and suicide bombings have translated into more votes for right-wing parties. That said, the July poll still found that a majority of Israelis were in favor of renewing negotiations with the Palestinians.

One last result. Half of of Israelis said that the outcome of the current war would be "a further round against Hamas" — more conflict, in other words.

Correction: This post initially did not note that the survey was only of Jewish Israelis, rather than all Israelis. The text has been corrected.

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