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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .


Security Threatened - Surveying Israeli Opinion on Peace and War
Asher Arian.

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
ISBN 0-521-48314-X.
Pb.: 14.95; ISBN 0-52149925-9.


Many studies of foreign policy making focus exclusively on the elites. Thus they often overlook the important inputs to this process, coming - spontaneously or contrived by some political manipulation - from the wide public. Against this background, Arian's book, a skillful empirical and theoretical analysis of the main trends in Israeli public opinion on security matters, that combines both points of view, is a refreshing phenomenon. In this book, the author, one of the Israeli most prominent political scientists, probes the findings of numerous surveys that looked at Israelis security-related attitudes and beliefs in the years 1962-1994. To most laymen these surveys seem to indicate noting more than chaotic surges and ebbs, twists and turns. However, Arian's systematic analysis overcomes this obstacle, coming out with the convincing insight that two basic trends have characterized security opinion in Israel: the hardening of positions regarding matters which have immediate implications for security (e.g., regarding the military measures used to restrain the Palestinian intifada/uprising), and second, the softening of positions regarding long term political issues (e.g., the returning of some of the territories occupied in the 1967 war). By crosscutting the respondents' answers to such security-related questions along various relevant background variables (gender, age, education, ethnic origin, level of religiosity, and political tendency), Arian explains the differences in preferences in this regard of the various sectors within Israeli society. Then the longitudinal changes in each sector's attitudes are examined. Back to the aggregate level, a syndrome which apparently dominates Israelis' security believes is brought to light: the People Apart Syndrome. This syndrome is of two components: God-and-us, related to the special relations perceived by many among God, Israel and Jewish history, and Go-It-Alone, related to feelings of isolation and to the belief that ultimately the Jewish destiny depends on Jews alone. Four major values that underlie Israeli security preferences are identified and scaled from the top down: Israel as a state with a Jewish majority; peace, greater Israel (retaining the territories) and democracy. In the final stage of the analysis the ways by which these security beliefs and values are translated into the language of national policy making are probed, taking into account the specific tenets of Israeli democracy. The bottom line in Arian's analysis is that the policy makers' role in this process is of utmost importance. This is because diplomatic breakthrough in the direction of peace would be accepted by the public if pursued by a legitimate leadership. However, toughening of the Israeli security policy would be supported as well, if that case was convincingly made by the nation's leaders.


Tamar Hermann, Tel Aviv University and the Open University of Israel



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