AFP, 04 Nov 2003
BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union scrambled to contain the fallout from a public opinion poll that — to Israel’s fury — labelled the Jewish state the biggest threat to world peace.
The United States was just behind Israel in the global danger league, in joint second place with North Korea and Iran, according to the “Eurobarometer” poll requested by the European Commission.
The results were part of a survey last month on Europeans’ attitudes in the aftermath of the Iraq war, which also found that more than two-thirds of EU citizens think that the US-led war was wrong.
The Israeli embassy in Brussels voiced outrage at the findings, which said that 59 percent of Europeans see Israel as a threat to world peace.
“Europeans seem blind to Israeli victims and suffering. Instead, they have put the Jewish state below the level of the worst pariah state and terror organizations,” it said in a statement.
“We are not only sad but outraged. Not at European citizens, but at those who are responsible for forming public opinion,” the embassy added.
“Israel’s desperate struggle for peace and security for its people has been distorted beyond recognition in often one-sided and emotionally charged media coverage.”
The poll had already prompted angry reactions after details were leaked by the Spanish daily El Pais last week.
The Israeli ambassador to Italy — which currently holds the EU presidency — told the daily Il Messagero Monday that the poll could have significant diplomatic consequences.
“It seems to me that the only aim of this poll was to denigrate Israel at a very delicate time, and I think it will it much more difficult for Europe to fulfill its ambition to play a part in the peace process,” said Ehud Gol.
The EU’s Italian presidency tried to play down the results, insisting they did not reflect the official EU position.
“The result of the survey, based on an ambiguous question, does not reflect the position of the European Union which has been voiced on numerous occasions,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in a statement.
“The EU is all the more annoyed since it is fully aware that the Israeli population is hit hard by terrorism,” it said, criticising the “false signal” that the survey sent out.
According to the Eurobarometer poll, based on interviews with 500 people in each of the 15 EU states, some 59 percent of Europeans replied “yes” when asked whether or not Israel presents a threat to peace in the world.
A total of 53 percent said Iran, North Korea and the United States pose a threat, followed by 52 percent for Iraq, 50 percent for Afghanistan (news – web sites) and 48 percent for Pakistan.
Countries lower down the list included Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, China, India, Russia and Somalia. The EU itself was described as a threat by eight percent of respondents.
The EU survey was presented in the form of a list of 15 countries, from which some 7,515 respondents were asked to say which ones they thought pose a threat to world peace.
Commission spokesman Gerassimos Thomas was repeatedly asked why the Palestinian territories were not included, while for example the survey asked Europeans about the threat from Somalia. “It is not a country,” he replied when pressed over the Palestinians.
The European Commission said Israel’s anger was “legitimate” but refused to get drawn into whether the poll findings were valid.
“I think the (Israeli) reaction was a very legitimate reaction,” the spokesman for the EU’s executive arm told reporters.
But he added: “It is not our task to interpret each and every survey. We don’t place excessive emphasis on one poll result.”