by Daphna Canetti-Nisim is a lecturer in the department of
political science, Haifa University.Eran Zaidise is a doctoral
student and Ami Pedahzur is a senior lecturer in the same
department. They all work at Haifa University National Security
It has become a truism that public opinion is important. Yet our
understanding of the public opinion phenomenon is far from
complete. Does public opinion influence policy-makers in their
all-important decision-making process, or is it the other way
around? No simple answer can be given. Traditionally classic
studies, such as those of Lippmann (1946), Almond (1950) and
Caspary (1970), questioned the very rationality of public opinion.
Accordingly, they portrayed it as incoherent or whimsical, often
changing, not only with changing circumstances but also with
guidance from above; i.e., directed and manipulated by interested
elites and opportunistic leaders. Caplin (1974), for example,
claimed that policy-makers may influence public opinion in a
desired direction, thus creating support for certain policies and
opposition to others. Later studies, however, have quite clearly
established that - whether influential or not - public opinion is
not irrational, showing both stability and coherency, and
reflecting the policy preferences of aggregate individuals (for a
very detailed review see Page & Shapiro, 1992). Subsequently,
it has come to be accepted that governments and individual
decision-makers take public opinion into account (Russett, 1990;
Wittkopf, 1990), even in circumstances where they do not choose to
comply with it. As indicated by Stimson (1991), public opinion sets
the limits for the policy-making process, thus outlining the arena
in which politics is played. It is most likely that no one-way
model clearly explains the relationship between public opinion and
policy making. Rather, as indicated by Hermann and Yuchtman-Yaar
(2002), this relationship resembles a two-way street, with each
side having an effect on the other - but not necessarily dictating
to the other.
Israeli Public Opinion on Militancy - General Trends
In Israel, the ongoing security situation is of the highest concern
to public opinion. This is, of course, not without reason as the
new methods of terrorism and the very nature of a long-lasting
(what is sometimes called "low intensity") confrontation have
brought security concerns into the homes of each and every resident
of Israel. Yet, although Israelis generally agree on the problem,
they differ in their views regarding possible solutions (Bar-Tal,
Generally speaking, in terms of the security discourse, Israeli
politics may be seen as alternating between two opposing poles
(Peleg, 1998; Sheffer, 2000): "dovish" and "hawkish." This clearly
over-simplified image implies two central avenues for addressing
Israel's security dilemma. The first, derived from the dovish
standpoint and often identified with Israel's left-wing political
parties, calls for a diplomatic resolution based on mutual
agreement and concessions. The second, mostly identified with
Israel's right-wing political parties, advocates a "power" solution
that is grounded, first and foremost, on military
Although this avenue need not suggest the absence of a diplomatic
or peaceful solution, it does give more leeway to military action
and use of force. In reality, most Israelis support some
combination of the use of military power and diplomacy (Arian,
1999). Previous data collected in Israel has shown that in the
balance between increasing military power or focusing on peace
talks as a preventive measure against war, most Israelis prefer to
focus on peace talks (Arian, 2003: 16) and support the peace
process (Hermann and Yuchtman-Yaar, 2002).
These studies actually bring out one of the most intriguing
paradoxes in Israeli politics: On the one hand, the majority of the
population supports the peace process, and believes in diplomatic
solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the other hand,
the electoral strength of right-wing parties associated with both
greater use of military force and rejection of the Oslo process has
constantly been on the rise in recent decades.
We wish to shed light on this inconsistency. We will do so by
addressing the issue of militancy, its support among Israelis, and
its evolution over the course of the four-year al-Aqsa
Militancy is only vaguely defined in the political and sociological
literature. Generally speaking, it refers to the use of force or
acceptance of such as a means of achieving objectives. In this
study, militancy refers to a justification for the use of military
force. As such, it involves not only political perceptions or
tactical inclinations, but also a moral belief that the use of
force is legitimate.
Data and Measures
The following data was collected at the National Security Studies
Center at the University of Haifa over a four-year period. It
consists of eight identical large-scale telephone surveys, each
more than 2,000 (over the age of 18) respondents, and conducted at
six-month intervals. Only the responses of the Jewish respondents,
who make up approximately 82 percent of each sample - roughly
similar to the percentage of Jews in the general population
(Central Bureau of Statistics [CBS] statistical abstracts).
Accordingly, each sample consists of around 1,640 Jewish
Militancy was gauged via three questionnaire items, to which
respondents were asked to state their agreement on a scale of one
to six: (a) "Every military action that Israel initiates is
justified"; (b) "All means are justified in Israel's war against
terror"; and (c) "Nuclear weapons should remain a vital component
in Israel's national security."
For purposes of clarity and coherence, we will present our key
findings in three stages. First, we will compare general trends in
the Israeli public's support for militancy, and the similarity and
difference between the three militant items. Then, we point out
trends in support of three sub-groups we believe are of particular
interest: (a) settlers living beyond the Green Line; (b)
Ultra-Orthodox (often referred to in Israel as Haredim); and (c)
immigrants from states of the former Soviet Union who have
immigrated to Israel since 1989. Finally, we will address several
key occurrences (influential terror attacks, Israel Defense Forces
[IDF] military operations and diplomatic events) to better
understand the change in militancy over time.
Similarity and Difference in Support for Militant
Although public support for the three survey items employed is not
the same, it does have common features indicating much similarity.
High levels of militancy were generally measured for all three
statements. At no point did Jewish support decrease below 60.3
percent for the general justification of military means, 77.1
percent in the context of terror, and 80.4 percent for the nuclear
statement. As shown in Figure 1, support for the nuclear statement
was consistently higher at all points in time, followed by support
in the context of terror, and, finally, the general support
Support for Militancy among Selected Israeli
Although support for military action is distinctive for most
Israelis, some groups in Israel exhibit a greater tendency toward
militancy than others. Exemplified in Table 1 is the generally
strong support of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In fact,
this is widely the most militant group, with one interesting
exception. While the support of former immigrants for militant
action in general, and especially with regard to terrorism, was
usually greater than that of other groups, their support for the
importance of nuclear power seems to be lower than that of the
general Israeli public. This may be the result of having grown up
in a major nuclear superpower, and under the constant threat of
nuclear warfare during the Cold War period, and the collective
memory of the events at Chernobyl.
The settler population, residing beyond Israel's Green Line, also
displays more militant attitudes than the general Jewish public.
Indeed, settlers' support for militancy was consistently higher
(compared to that of Jews in general) at all time and regarding all
Of the three sub-groups explored, that of the ultra-Orthodox is
most unique. Primarily visible in Table 1 is the fact that, unlike
the previous two groups, this group is not generally more militant
than the general public. With regard to two of the three statements
it is usually less militant. Yet, regarding the "war against
terror," support exceeded that of the general public at all times,
and, occasionally, even exceeded support among the settlers group.
This is perhaps a good indication of the effect of terror on all
segments of society, but may also be a result of the religious
nature of what is sometimes regarded as the more "ideological"
Changes in Militancy over Time
Support for militancy in Israel is rather stable, although
fluctuations may be observed between October 2000 and April 2004.
Two major changes are most visible. There is a rise in militant
attitudes between April and October 2001 (for the statement
regarding the importance of nuclear weapons this rise continues
until April 2002). Second, following October 2001 (or April 2002
for the statement regarding nuclear weapons), there is a stable
decrease in militant attitudes. This later trend lasts until April
2003 for general support of military action, and until October 2003
for the remaining two statements.
These figures generally coincide with the major waves of terrorist
activity in general, and with spurts of suicide attacks in
particular. The general trend in suicide terrorism may be seen in
The months preceding the October 2001 and April 2002 surveys were
characterized by an upsurge in lethal terrorist activities. During
this period terror struck a large number of towns and cities inside
Israel, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. March 2002 signified
the worst of the incidents for many Israelis. On March 27, Israelis
were horrified when Hamas terrorists attacked the Park Hotel in
Netanya in the midst of the Passover holiday seder, killing 28
people, with over 140 wounded. The timing of this event, on the
evening of Israel's most celebrated holiday, further fueled the
rage of many Israelis bringing support for military action to a
climax. In the April 2002 survey, 70.9 percent of the sample stated
that "every military action that Israel initiates is justified,"
while an overwhelming 80.2 percent justified every military action
in the war against terror.
This heightened public atmosphere was the setting in which
operation "Defensive Shield" was launched. The intensity of
terrorist attacks declined in the following month as did militant
attitudes in the Israeli public. This decline lasted for more than
18 months, throughout 2003. Yet in April 2004, a new increase in
militant attitudes was observed. Once again, this increase followed
several high-profile events during the summer months of 2003,
including two lethal attacks in Jerusalem, and the bombing of
Maxim's restaurant in Haifa.
The year 2004 was relatively uneventful in comparison to previous
years. In addition, there has been a dramatic advance in Israel's
plans for unilateral withdrawal from territory and for evacuation
of settlements, centering attention on internal Israeli politics
and slightly blunting the attractiveness of military solutions. Yet
in the fragile reality of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, this may
only be a pause in the larger scheme of things.
Some Final Thoughts
Since the post-World War II era and the decline of the Cold War,
few Western democracies still face existential threats to their
existence. Israel, however, is still highly immersed in conflict,
and Israeli politics and public opinion are widely affected by
security concerns. The subject of militancy explored in this work
touches upon various solutions to these concerns specifically,
whether the use of military force is the preferred solution.
In the context of a state conflict ( with another state or with a
non-state agent) militancy usually refers to the willingness (or
readiness) to employ military force. In Israel, this willingness
seems widespread, and approximately two-thirds of the Jewish
population justifies the use of force almost blindly. Where
specific security threats are concerned support for militancy
increases even more. Furthermore, although it is presumable to
argue that "blind" support and "specific" or "context- related"
support are not one and the same, they do seem to be closely
related in an analysis of Israeli public opinion. Specific tactical
considerations, such as the use of nuclear deterrence, seem closely
related to the general trend to support the use of military
strength - even when a conflict cannot possibly be addressed by
Moreover, while militant attitudes are notably influenced by
terrorist incidents, they are generally stable. They are also more
distinctive among several sub-groups in the public - most notably
new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but also residents of
settlements beyond Israel's Green Line.
How may these findings explain contemporary Israeli politics? The
answer is not simple and further research is imperative. Yet a
number of points may be suggested. First, the widespread belief
that the Israeli right wing is far more militant than the left wing
is possibly exaggerated. As Hermann and Yuchtman-Yaar (2002) have
shown regarding support for the peace process, militancy, too,
crosscuts cleavages in Israeli society. It is also interesting to
note the population of ultra-Orthodox Jews. While ultra-Orthodox
political parties have lately been referred to as right-wing
parties (Pedahzur, 2003), their adherents may very well represent
different characteristics than those traditionally referred to in
Israeli politics as right wing.
Another point to consider is that, in Israeli public opinion, the
willingness to employ military means does not contradict more
diplomatic solutions. In fact, the majority of the public strongly
support both at the same time. This explains why Israeli
politicians and political parties can promise these two seemingly
opposing policies at the same time.
As a final point, we find it important to note that this work is
merely a starting point for the understanding of militancy. More
rigorous research needs to be carried out before militancy in
Israel and elsewhere is well understood. The concept itself
requires better conceptualization and a sound theoretical
framework. Only when this is achieved, can more and stronger
correlates with other social and political phenomenon be found.
This is a prerequisite for understanding both the predictors of
militancy and its influences.
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