Public support among Israeli Jews for the military campaign in Gaza has been overwhelming throughout its 24-day duration, with a recent opinion poll showing 95% of respondents believed the war was justified.
A survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University on three separate occasions between 14 and 23 July, and published this week, found that only 3-4% agreed with a statement that the Israel Defence Forces had used excessive firepower in the conflict.
The findings were echoed in a separate poll, also published this week, in which 86% of Israeli Jews said they supported the war. Fewer than 10% agreed that it was time to stop, and 86.5% said military action should not cease until Hamas’s rockets and tunnels had been dealt with and Hamas had surrendered.
Support is not universal, however. There have been anti-war rallies in most major cities, but they have attracted small numbers and have come under physical and verbal attack from rightwing activists. A protest in Tel Aviv last Saturday drew around 5,000, the biggest number to date by far.
Tamar Hermann, of the Israel Democracy Institute, said she was not surprised by the strength of support. “The majority of Israeli Jewish public see an existential threat in the rockets and tunnels,” she said. “There is no pressure on people – this is authentic support. People think this is a just war.”
Isaac Herzog, leader of the Labour party, said Israel was hardly a North Korea-style monolith. “Any issue in Israel is up for argument and debate, and the social networks are extremely active,” he said. “But there is a national consensus [on the war].”
That consensus has been shaped in part by the media, which have largely focused on Israeli military casualties and rocket attacks, playing down Palestinian civilian deaths.
“The Israeli media is completely one-sided,” said Orly Halpern, an Israeli journalist who writes the News Nosh, a daily review of the media for Americans For Peace Now. “You find references to Palestinian civilian casualties only deep in reports or on inside pages.”
None of Israel’s tabloid papers carried front-page reports of Wednesday’s deadly attacks in Gaza – the shelling of a UN school sheltering refugees, and the bombing of a crowded market. The lead of the inside-page story in Israel’s biggest-selling paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, read “Palestinian civilians continue to pay the price for Hamas aggression”. Halpern said: “Even when Palestinian civilian casualties are mentioned, it’s portrayed as Hamas’s fault.”
A notable exception is the left-leaning Haaretz, which carries reports of events in Gaza and commentary critical of the military operation. Its share of the market was less than 7% last year.
Israeli journalists have been forbidden from entering Gaza since 2008, which inevitably hinders reporting.
There have been several cases in recent weeks of workers being sacked or suspended for comments posted on Facebook and Twitter. A supermarket employee was fired for expressing joy over the death of Israeli soldiers. A bank employee was sacked after writing grossly antisemitic remarks on Facebook.
Some activists who have posted anti-war opinions, rather than outrageously offensive material, have complained of being vilified. “The strength of a democratic state lies in its enabling of free expression,” said Sharon Abraham-Weiss, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “Free speech protections are designed specifically to cover outrageous and frustrating comments, from the left and the right. Employers that fire employees because of comments made on Facebook should be aware that they risk exposure to claims of discrimination.”