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Emet m'Tsiyon

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Public Opinion Polls as Propaganda at HaArets

Israel's HaArets daily newspaper fancies itself the Israeli counterpart of The New York Times. I and others would not see such a resemblance as a source of pride. Yet there is something to it, although the NYT commits many more crimes against the trees than the thinner HaArets does. But both pretentiously high-brow rags distort and even falsify the news. HaArets does it through public opinion polls, among other ways. Political scientists and sociologists are well aware that one can usually obtain the answer that best serves one's interests and policy preferences by framing the questions in a suitable manner --or even by eliminating possible choices. That's a good reason to always be wary of public opinion polls. You have to ask, What questions did the poll ask, What alternative choices were supplied, etc. Here's an example from the Israel correspondent of the Economist, not exactly a friend of Israel or of truth.

The correspondent, one Gideon Lichfield, wondered at the apparently contradictory results of two public opinion polls taken in Israel. A poll published in HaArets asserted that most Israelis wanted negotiations with Hamas. A poll by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University showed that a solid majority of Israelis preferred to deal with Hamas by military means. This percentage [circa 64%] is even higher if we look only at the answers of the Israeli Jews.

The pollster for HaArets, one Camil Fuchs, frankly admitted his dishonest, unscientific polling method to Lichfield. His poll presented only two options, Should Israel negotiate with Hamas, Yes or No, plus a Don't Know option. On the other hand, The Steinmetz Center poll contained several operational options, plus Other & Don't Know. Lichfield asked:
So which poll is “right”? What does the Israeli public actually think about talks with Hamas? I [Lichfield] asked Fuchs.
“When you include other options, you’re cognitively giving legitimacy to them,” he [Fuchs] says. “What you’re doing is hinting to the person that there are other people who prefer these options.”
So what Fuchs does is to foreclose certain options from his poll in order to obtain the answers that he wants. Lichfield points out: "When there’s only one option on the table, on the other hand, you’re asking them to choose between doing that and doing nothing." Lichfield concludes:
In short, what the two polls taken together say is that if the people could run the government, and had a range of options for dealing with Gaza, more of them would go with a military option. However, if the government says it’s going to talk to Hamas, 64% of the public would support it (though Fuchs thinks the number now would be a little lower than three weeks ago)
The trick that Fuchs used to skew his poll is common and widespread throughout the world. Before accepting the results of any public opinion poll as genuine or meaningful, you have to know what questions were asked or what options were supplied. If you know the questions asked and the options supplied, then you also know what questions were not asked and what options not supplied. What do you do if you are queried by a poll which supplies several options but not any option that you agree with?? What do you do if you disagree with the premises of a poll's question?? This has often happened to me. It is especially annoying if no Other or Don't Know option is supplied. For an example of disagreeing with the very premises of a question, suppose you are asked, as an Israeli, Should Israel negotiate with "the palestinians"?? I and many others reject the very notion of a "palestinian people" [as do many Arabs]. But the poll does not allow us to assert that disagreement. Furthermore, suppose someone agrees that there is a "palestinian people." Then the issue arises, staying with the same poll question, Which "palestinians" do you think fit or unfit to negotiate with? The answer could be "the palestinians" [Arabs] living in the "West Bank" [Judea-Samaria] and their elected representatives [this answer could have been relevant before the Oslo accords and the subsequent establishment of the "palestinian authority"]. Today, one might choose between Fatah or Hamas or both or "palestinians who are not part of any terrorist group such as Fatah or Hamas." By not allowing disagreement with the premises of a question, the pollster is obtaining agreement to those premises from those who answer the question, even if in fact the questioned person does not accept the premises.

As to Hamas, there are good reasons for not negotiating with it but rather destroying it as an organization. This is because the Hamas charter is genocidally anti-Jewish in character [consider Article 7 in particular, which advocates killing off the Jews as such, albeit not until Judgement Day, which in practice encourages killing Jews at any time and place]. What is there to negotiate with such an organization?? It is ridiculous to claim, as many hypocritical Western politicians do, such as Tony Blair, that negotiating with Hamas would "moderate" its actions and its goals. Neville Chamberlain claimed, after pressuring Czechoslovakia to concede territory to the Nazi Germans, to Hitler, that he had brought to Britain, "peace in our time. . . peace with honor." In fact, he brought neither peace nor honor. Tony seems cut from the same cloth.

Negotiating with a genocidal outfit like Hamas gives it undesirable acceptance and prestige in world public opinion. Indeed, such negotiation gives genocide in principle a certain acceptance and legitimacy.
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Coming: English prof who writes for the Nation, lies on Obama's behalf, and looks to the State Dept for authority; more on Jews in Jerusalem & Hebron; archeology in Israel; peace follies; propaganda, etc.

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