“Extending Our Sovereignty” in one corner Versus “Divorce” in the other
It looks like the incoming government might actually move toward a July declaration of sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. With this idea gaining traction, we can expect lots of push and pull in the media and semi-academic websites. I examine the two sides of this debate using representative articles in the media and give you some tools for judging their relative merits.
In the Boxing Ring
Prof Efraim Inbar wrote, in effect, that there is no stopping the extension of sovereignty at least to the Jordan Valley and how that is the fulfillment of a plan supported by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
By May 6, a mere week after the publication of Inbar’s article, the group, Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), popped up to provide a rebuttal, if not to Inbar’s article specifically, then to the fact that it seems the government might actually extend Israeli law to land they want to give away to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In One Corner, “Divorce”
To say that CIS does not like the idea of applying Israeli law to any part of the disputed territory is an understatement. They put up many Facebook posts opposing it. They came up with the concept that it is time to get a “divorce” from the Palestinian Arabs and much was written about it in 2018 (such as here and here and here). The organization released results of a new poll that, they claim, says that most Jewish Israelis support divorce.
According to ynet, one of the several papers that reported on the survey, their results showed that:
… only a quarter of the respondents (26%) said they support the potential annexation, while 40% prefer a permanent two-state solution, 22% favor unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians, while only 13% are content with the current situation.
They conclude that over 60% of Israeli Jews want divorce, either with an agreement (40%) or without (22%) when they quote former Deputy Chief of Staff Matan Vilnai as saying:
The data shows that a significant majority in the public opposes annexation, and prefers solutions based on separation from the Palestinians…
However, we can look at these figures from a different angle: if we accept the data as accurate, 40% responded that they want the conflict to be resolved by negotiations and seem to still trust the Oslo Accords process. This means that 60% do not and are looking for another solution. Of these, the proportion of Jewish Israelis favouring divorce without agreement (i.e. unilateral disengagement) — 22% — is almost the same as the proportion favouring extending our sovereignty over the land — 26%. For CIS to include those still putting their faith in the Oslo process together with those wanting unilaterial disengagement is a particularly biased way of interpreting the data. While I have my own biases, of course, I think my way provides a more neutral interpretation. ?
Can we trust the CIS survey? This is all we know about it from the article:
The survey, conducted by the Commanders for Israel’s Security movement (comprised of senior security officials who oppose the extension of Israeli sovereignty to Palestinian-held lands), examined a sample of 1,000 people from the Jewish public alone.
To evaluate how much faith to put into survey results, we would need more information: First, who actually conducted the survey? Was it a recognized and respected polling firm? Second, what questions did they ask? Pew surveys, for example, provide the entire questionnaire online and the responses to each question. This allows readers to evaluate the fairness of the survey by: (a) having access to the wording they used in their questions, and (b) seeing the responses of all groups of participants to all questions and not just the ones they select to present in their press release.
I googled their website to see what it said about the survey. To my great surprise, there was not one single word about a poll or even a hint that one had been conducted. There were articles expressing much gloom and doom about the proposed extension of sovereignty but not even a mention of the survey the press articles said they had carried out. I wrote to CIS by email, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and using the contact page on their website to ask for more information about this survey. I got no response at all. This makes me suspicious of their reported results and claims.
And in the Other Corner, “Extending our Sovereignty”
In his article, Prof Inbar was quite adamant that Israelis, in fact, favour extension of our sovereignty:
… there is widespread agreement among Israelis about the strategic importance of the valley. That is why Blue and White leader Benny Gantz could sign off on the deal to form an emergency government. The consensus extends to Labor and even members of the opposition to the new national unity government.
This is even more striking because at the time he wrote the article it did not seem that the rightwing Yamina party was going to be part of the opposition.
In an email, I asked Prof Inbar for his comment on the survey results reported by CIS and he responded:
The people that publish a poll : “The majority of Israel’s Jews do not support the annexation of disputed territories in the West Bank…” are distorting the views of the Israeli public. It is a pity that people are not honest.
Who to believe? Prof Inbar or CIS?
I could have written back to Prof Inbar and asked for links to material upon which he based what he said about “widespread agreement among Israelis” but I did not want to be a pest. (He could have added a link to that statement in his article in order to save me some time, but he did not. Maybe next time.) So I did exactly what I did regarding the CIS claims: I googled for proof myself.
At the end of the first news article I found (this one), the organization that conducted a poll showing most Israelis support extending our sovereignty was clearly named. A quick and easy search took me right to where I wanted to go: to a detailed summary of the April 2020 Israel Voice Index conducted for The Israel Democracy Institute. The summary was published on May 10. The names of the two researchers responsible for the survey are right at the top of the document and you can click on their names and find out something about them. What a difference it makes to have the names of an organization and individuals responsible for the survey and this stands in stark contrast to the CIS website and their lack of responsiveness to me and, therefore, lack of transparency and believability.
The summary of the Israel Voice Index results is quite detailed and has information about sampling and sampling error, and lots of graphs showing the responses to a variety of questions, not all on the issue of extending our sovereignty. You can click on a button at the end of the report to open a document showing the wording of a number of the questions and the range of responses offered. If you want to read the entire report, you can get it in Hebrew, as noted at the end of the summary.
Match: Win on Points
There is no contest here. When one side provides data and enough information showing how the data was acquired and the other side provides emotionally charged statements and images but no substantiation to the data they purport to have collected, the answer is obvious: the former should be more convincing. But the latter is so much more colourful. For one thing, when trying to find a feature image to accompany social media shares of this article, the lag b’omer image produced by CIS is so eye-catching but I do not want to advertise their message. There is nothing so striking on the “extend the sovereignty” side. And that is precisely the problem we are having getting the less photogenic message across.
Two other aspects you may want to consider: