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Canadians largely neutral in Gaza conflict

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The majority of Canadians are solidly on the sidelines when it comes to picking sides in the recent conflict in Gaza, but of those who have chosen sides, a plurality supports Israel by nearly a three-to-one margin, according to a recent Ipsos Reid poll.

Moshe Ronen, chair of the Canada-Israel Committee 

The poll found that of the 85 per cent of Canadians who have been following the conflict, 36 per cent think Canada should “take sides with Israel” rather than favouring the Palestinians and Hamas. Only 13 per cent of respondents say Canada should favour the Palestinians and Hamas. The majority of Canadians, 51 per cent, said Canada should favour neither side or they didn’t know who to back.

The poll canvassed 1,000 Canadians from coast to coast and was conducted from Jan. 6 to 8.

Addressing the issue of whether Israel has used excessive or appropriate force in responding to Hamas rocket attacks, 49 per cent said the force used was excessive, while 39 per cent called it appropriate. Thirteen per cent didn’t know or refused to answer.

Canadians placed responsibility for the crisis squarely with the Palestinians and Hamas. Asked who they believes “is most to blame for the current conflict,” 43 per cent fingered the Palestinians and Hamas. Only 18 per cent said the Israelis were more to blame and 39 per cent said neither, or didn’t know or would not answer.

Canadians were also asked whether they supported creation of a Palestinian state. Forty-two per cent of those following the issue favoured that position, while 35 per cent were against it. The remainder didn’t know or refused to answer.

John Wright, senior vice-president of Ipsos Reid public relations, said Canadians understand the defence needs of Israel, but at the same time “there is a belief that Israel’s response has been excessive. Twelve hundred [Palestinians] have been killed in the conflict on one side and six on the other side… When 1,200 people are caught in the middle, the poll showed that tempers people’s views.”

Those casualties, he said, “are a mitigating factor” in the support for Israel.

Wright said the poll is consistent with findings following two earlier conflicts. In 2002, at the height of the second intifadah, 48 per cent of Canadians supported neither side, while 16 per cent backed Israel and 12 per cent the Palestinians. In August 2006, during the Lebanon war, 19 per cent blamed Israel for the war and 47 per cent blamed others in the region.

While a plurality of Canadians support Israel, at 36-13, the margin “is pretty thin,” he added.

Moshe Ronen, chair of the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC), the Jewish community’s advocacy arm on Israel, had another take on the poll.

“People following the current conflict understand that Israel is defending itself in the most civil way possible against a most uncivil enemy, Hamas,” he said. “People realize that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism is the kind of threat Canadians worry about and that this battle is part of the international war against terrorism.

“Canadians realize Israel faces challenges in terms of defending its citizens.” They saw Israel absorb attacks and they respect the restraint shown by Israel despite thousands of missiles fired at it. “Canadians are on board and fed up with the Palestinians’ failures to choose a leadership to take advantage of the opportunities given to them,” he said.

Ronen said Canadians are likely also influenced by the position taken by the Canadian government, which has been supportive of Israel, as well as the favourable comments by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who condemned the Hamas rocket attacks, called for an immediate end to those attacks and affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.

 

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